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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Defending retirement

María Teresa Rodríguez, one of the two Puerto Rican Workers Central nominees to the Pension Benefits Council, speaks at a press conference on Wednesday. (Richard Gutiérrez/ The San Juan Daily Star)

Central gov’t union members present nominees for Pension Benefits Council

By Richard Gutiérrez

In the most modern economies, money isn’t a gift, you have to earn it; a lot of people work hard for the money they currently have.

That is why the Puerto Rican Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish initials) on Wednesday called upon retired and active workers who are closing in on retirement from the central government to vote in the upcoming election of members to the Pension Benefits Council and announced today the nomination of pensioners María Teresa Rodríguez, better known as “Mariatere,” and Pablo Crespo, the executive Director of the ELA Employees Association, as candidates for four-year terms on the council.

“These two candidates are going to represent pensioned workers,” CPT President Emilio Nieves told the STAR. “Considering the great majority of pensioned people are from the central government, when we are talking about the central government we are talking about many different government offices: the Treasury Department, the Transportation [and Public Works] Department, and even municipal agencies are part of the overall central government.”

In order to understand how the Pension Trust came to be, a small history lesson is required. Back in 2017, the Financial Oversight and Management Board, in the name of the government of Puerto Rico, declared bankruptcy under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act to restructure $72 billion in public debt and more than $55 billion in pension obligations with retirees. The Union Office of the United States nominated a Committee of Official Retirees (COR) by the petition of 17 organizations of retirees to represent the collective interests of the 167,000 retired workers from the central government and the judiciary in the bankruptcy process.

In 2019, the COR proposed the creation of a reserve fund, a “novel mechanism” to help pay pensions when the island government exited bankruptcy. The oversight board, the Puerto Rico government and the Association of Federal, State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)/ Public Servants United (SPU) supported the proposal with the COR and proceeded to negotiate their terms.

In January 2022, The federal Title III bankruptcy court confirmed the Adjustment Plan for Puerto Rico where the “guidelines for governorship and administration of the Reserved Pension Trust” were included.

“In other words, the independent retirement systems don’t exist anymore,” Nieves said. “All three retirement systems were combined into one, judiciary, teachers and central government. Each one of these divisions has two candidates and today we are presenting our two candidates for the retirees of the central government. We want to pass on this information so that all retirees are aware of this candidacy.”

The conference went on to give the candidates a thorough introduction.

“Mariatere has fought for decades in defense of our labor rights as president of the Independent Bank Union and was the first female vice president of the CPT,” Nieves said. “She was also heavily active in the fight for our right to a worthy retirement, and against the reforms of Bill 3 and pension cuts proposed by [oversight board]. In 2020, the first National Assembly for a worthy retirement took place with the attendance of more than 1,000 pensioned retirees who fought and were able to prevent a pension cut of 8.5% in the adjustment proposals for the central government debt.”

Crespo, the other candidate, laid out the candidates’ mission for the STAR.

“The fundamental mission of the people who are selected is to protect the pension money, which is so important for the Puerto Rican family, protect it tooth and nail, because we need to be very aware of the use of all funds,” he said. “This money passes on through a trust and we are going to be responsible for guarding that trust.”

Crespo added that “I represent public service employees and retirees in a great way because I work in the Association of Employees ELA as an executive director.”

“ELA is truly an example of overcoming challenges; this entity has been used as an inspiration for the creation of this trust. Members of the council must take charge of this trust for the benefit of all retirees. It is our responsibility to protect this [trust] until the end.” Rodríguez added: “My commitment to the council is to make sure that what is done is done right to manage the funds.”

“I am a firm believer in utopias. I believe in a better future. If we don’t believe in utopias we will simply stay in the status quo and we won’t be able to achieve what we have to achieve,” she said. “I encourage retirees from Bill 447 and Bill 1 to vote. You will have different ways to vote, [and] it is important that you vote because that is how we proclaim our democratic right.”

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