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Union Leaders: ‘Abusive’ House Bill Detrimental to Puerto Rico’s Middle Class

By on April 23, 2017

SAN JUAN — Union leaders warned Sunday that the House of Representatives is expected to pass House Bill 938, which reduces the benefits of public workers and would damage the island’s deteriorated economy by further impoverishing the working middle class of Puerto Rico.

Leaders of the Puerto Rican Workers’ Federation (FTPR), the Puerto Rican Central of Workers (CPT), the General Union of Workers (UGT), the Central Workers Federation (FCT), United Public Servants of Puerto Rico (SPU), the International Union of Professional Office Workers (OPEIU), and its affiliates, said in a statement that if House Bill 938 is enacted into law, the government will have to endure the ire of workers.

Puerto Rico's Capitol, home to the island's Legislature. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Legislative Assembly is expected to approve House Bull 938 this week so Gov. Ricardo Rosselló can sign it before he presents his budget plan for Fiscal Year 2018, which the Fiscal Oversight & Management Board requested no longer than April 30. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Most public sector workers have not seen a salary hike for years but mostly since the enactment of laws that froze economic benefits.

The government has not provided evidence that a previous labor reform, the Puerto Rico Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act, which eliminated benefits for workers in the private sector, has reduced unemployment since its enactment in February.

H.B. 938 establishes that the government’s contribution to the workers’ health plan will not exceed $100 and that overtime pay will be replaced by compensatory time or payment of time and a half.

In addition, contrary to what the governor had promised, the employer may unilaterally deploy a worker to any agency, vacation time will be limited to 15 days, sick days will be reduced to 18 days (in the case of new appointments to 12 days) and the Christmas bonus will have a cap of $600, among other cuts and elimination of profits.

They urged public workers to “flood the offices of the Capitol Monday morning at 1:00 pm” to lobby against the bill as they have information representatives plan to approve the bill during the session, according to the statement.

FTPR President, José Rodríguez Báez, said H.B. 938, introduced on April 18, undermines the collective bargaining agreements and would stop Puerto Rico’s workers from having any social progress.

“In a flash, last Thursday, they said that the alleged savings of the measures proposed by Bill 938, is scarcely $134 million per year. But no one could provide numbers as to the reduction in tax collections by the Treasury due to the serious economic contraction in the retirement systems, commerce, tourism, insurers and all sectors, ” Rodríguez Báez said in a statement.

“This government does not understand that the austerity measures promulgated by this bill have failed in other countries such as Spain, Greece, Argentina, Ireland and Portugal,” Iram Ramírez, chairman of OPEIU, said. “Now we intend to impose them here as if the evidence of that failure did not matter or could simply be made invisible by the stroke of a pen. Again, we are making the mistake of looking inward and ignoring the international experience. ”

Teachers demand to be excluded from bill that would reduce benefits to the public sector

CPT President, Pedro Irene Maymí, explained that “this is a totally abusive bill that will affect all employees of the public sector, both unionized and non-unionized, in key aspects as health, where the contribution to the medical plan will not even be enough for visits to general practitioners. ”

Víctor Villalba, also of the CPT, said that “the cuts proposed by the bill leave the workers in a total state of defenselessness. They aim to throw away decades of struggle to achieve the current agreements and we will not allow it. ”

Meanwhile, UGT President Gerson Guzmán, said that two weeks ago, the Secretaries of the Governor and the Department of Labor assured public workers that they would not disrupt the collective agreements but are now promoting this bill.

FCT President Andrés Lloret Gutiérrez pointed out that the new action involves the destruction of what little workers had after Law 66 of 2014 and Law 3 of 2017, which left workers without the possibility of a salary increase until 2021.

SPU President Annette González stated that “under the threat of dismissing public employees, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intends to turn back the clock 60 years in labor advancements. With this legislation, Rosselló is undoubtedly proving that for him the bondholders go before the people of Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, we are seeing a pattern of legislation aimed at eliminating public service and workers’ rights, which negatively impacts the middle-class Puerto Rican family.”

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