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Who would a Puerto Rico government furlough affect?

By on August 18, 2017

SAN JUAN – At its ninth public meeting, the fiscal control board asked Puerto Rico’s government to activate an executive branch worker furlough that cuts two workdays a month from Sept. 1 to June 30, or until a $218 million saving is achieved.

However, it is not entirely clear to whom this furlough program would apply because Gov. Ricardo Rosselló insists he will not implement the measure even though Chairman José Carrión III is willing to go to court to have it enforced.

Caribbean Business asked the fiscal board to specify which public employees would be affected by the furlough. Press spokesman José Luis Cedeño replied it would be all executive branch employees, including those of public corporations, but not the police. Also exempt would be employees of the fiscal board itself, as well as those working under the legislative and judicial branches.

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Since the certification of the fiscal plan indicates that the furlough program cannot affect “frontline” personnel, CB questioned whether Medical Center, Fire Department, and other emergency response and public safety agency staff are included.

Cedeño said he would consult with the board’s legal counsel, but replied by sending a letter sent to the governor on Aug. 4, which reiterates the need to implement the program, leaving the decision of how to apply it in government hands.

In an interview with Caribbean Business, the board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, said it would be up to the government to design how to implement the measure fairly while guaranteeing public safety.

“It has to be implemented by the government. The fiscal oversight board cannot implement it, it can only ensure the execution of the fiscal plan,” Jaresko said.

“When the Government designs the furlough program, we think it is advisable that it adhere to the following principles:
• Prevent adverse effect on public safety or critical health services;
• Minimize impact on any single Executive Branch government employee, including but not limited to requiring the participation of all Executive Branch government employees, with the only exceptions being those required to satisfy the principle of preserving public safety; and
• Minimize accrued liability of deferred furloughs by establishing strict criteria for any deviation from a standard furlough schedule,” the Aug. 4 letter reads.

The document also says the program should be in force until two criteria are met: “savings of $218 million have been achieved or are reasonably expected” or that the board determines that “the Government has made material and sufficient progress” in transforming itself.

The letter also warns that if the measure is not implemented, the board would “pursue all appropriate means to enforce the certified Fiscal Plan, as required by PROMESA,” which may include “seeking a judicial determination.”

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“The Oversight Board believes it is in everyone’s best interest that we avoid litigation because of the cost, delay, and distraction it would entail. Moreover, because any judicial resolution may take time, the required right-sizing savings for fiscal year 2018 would have to be obtained in a much shorter period. This would make the furloughs more painful and disruptive because they may need to be more than two-days [sic] per month,” the federally created panel warns.

The governor, however, did not respond to that letter, but said publicly that he will not cut workdays because it would represent an impact of more than $300 million on the island’s already battered economy.

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