Puerto Rico Senate president to summon fiscal board chairman again
SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz announced Monday that he will once again summon the chairman of the island’s fiscal oversight board, José Carrión, to a public hearing to defend its labor reform proposal after he indicated over the weekend that he would not attend the hearing scheduled for Tuesday.
Rivera Schatz said he was sending Carrión a letter to invite him to a hearing “on the day and time he is available, including weekends,” for it to be held “at his convenience,” according to a Senate release.
“The Promesa law establishes certain standards, but morality and dignity establish others much higher than the law itself. If there is a person who wants to prescribe a labor reform to Puerto Rico for understanding it is good, it would then be morally right that they come to the Legislative Assembly and explain it and give us the details of what they understand this legislation should contain and the fundamentals,” the Senate president said in the release.
In a conversation with Finance Committee Chairwoman Migdalia Padilla, the Senate president said Carrión could choose the day and time that best fits his schedule, and reminded that the Legislative Assembly has until June 30 to pass or reject bills.
In addition, he reiterated that he would invite other sectors to evaluate the Labor Reform Law of 2018 in public hearings, as well as several agency heads, economists and the presidents of the Popular Democratic (PDP) and Puerto Rican Independence (PIP) parties.
In a letter Friday, Carrión declined Rivera Schatz’s invitation to appear for a public hearing on May 1, International Workers Day, when several sectors are slated to demonstrate against the policies of the government and the fiscal board.
The private sector labor reform bill drafted by the fiscal board proposes the repeal of Act 80, which penalizes unjustified dismissals; making salary component known as the Christmas Bonus optional starting in 2019; limiting vacation and sick leave to seven days a year, respectively, for employees who work at least 130 hours a month, and for local employers with 12 or fewer employees, the minimum monthly accrual for vacation leave would be half a day per month, or a total of six days a year.
The bill would increase the minimum wage starting next year to $7.50 for employees age 25 and older and those not otherwise exempted from federal minimum wage provisions. It would also condition increases to $7.75, $8 and $8.25 to the labor-force participation rate reaching 45%, 50%, and 55%, respectively. The increase would not apply to small and midsize businesses or to employees younger than 25.
It would also amend the anti-retaliation Act 115 to reduce from three years to one year the period during which an employee may file a civil action against their employer.
Regarding the budget that should enter into force July 1, Rivera Schatz said that, if an agreement is not reached, the legislature will keep the current budget “that they [the board] themselves accepted,” adding that, “sadly for them, the budget does not increase by $20 million,” in reference to a board request that its operating budget be raised from $60 million to $80 million.
Senate PDP Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia questioned whether Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will submit his version of the budget before the Legislative Assembly, since there are only two months left before the ordinary session ends.
“This issue [the budget] is going to occupy a lot of time in the coming months, and the time is running,” Bhatia said, stressing that it is the duty of the Legislature to decide whether to accept the cuts included in the recently certified fiscal plan by the board established under the Promesa federal law
Meanwhile, Rivera Schatz assured he would not give way to provisions in the governor’s tax reform that seek to confer powers of the legislative branch to the Treasury secretary such as the ability to alter credits and tax incentives at the convenience of the state.