Firefighters call on governor to honor salary hike

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Puerto Rico United Firefighters Union (SBUPR by its Spanish initials) President José Tirado, along with dozens of union delegates, urged Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Thursday to identify the funds required by Act 181-2019 to grant an already authorized salary increase for the island’s firefighters.

Tirado said the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board has been clear with the union that the island government must ensure that the money for the salary increase reaches the commonwealth’s General Fund.

“We have had open communication with the [oversight] board and they have expressed to us that they appreciate the work of the troops and they consider it invaluable,” Tirado said, noting that although the island government’s 2020 Fiscal Plan contemplated the increase in firefighters’ salaries, it was conditioned on a 3% charge that was applied to fire insurance companies.

Therefore, the government should have implemented the charge from March 2019 so that those collections would reach the General Fund and ensure the permanent raise for firefighters.

Furthermore, the oversight board requested information from the Puerto Rico Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority in order to determine the status of charge collections and the probable total for the fiscal year. Once the government provides the resources to offset the increase, it will ensure that the increase is permanently in effect.

“That is why it is vitally important that Governor Pierluisi make concrete his commitment to the troops in the first line of [fire] protection and defense, as he did with their colleagues in the Puerto Rico Police by identifying $72 million annually to give them the $600 monthly salary increase,” the union leader said.

The Firefighters’ Wage Adjustment Act authorizes a salary increase of $125 a month and went into effect on July 1, 2020. The budgetary impact of this increase is $3.2 million annually. The Puerto Rico Fire Department Bargaining Unit has 1,700 civilian employees and officers.

“We are in the midst of a global health crisis and the Puerto Rico Fire Department is part of the human capital that assists in emergencies,” Tirado said. “Our call to the governor is to urgently address this issue of wage justice. In the past few days, we requested a meeting with the chief executive to discuss this issue in depth.”

Likewise, the SBUPR requested a meeting with incoming Public Safety (DPS) Secretary Alexis Torres to discuss labor situations that in the past were presented to the DPS but were not addressed by then-Public Safety chief Pedro Janer.

The union leader said he was confident that the governor’s continued openness to dialogue and consensus would lead to the wage adjustment law being enforced.

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