• The San Juan Daily Star

Firefighters urge fiscal board to endorse salary justice bill

Senators say funds are available to cover the wage increase

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

With the intention of achieving salary justice, members of the Puerto Rico United Firefighters Syndicate, along with members of the island Senate, called for the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) on Thursday to join forces and endorse a Senate bill that would amend Act 181 and double firefighters’ wage increase.

During a press conference held at the fire station in Puerta de Tierra, San Juan, Firefighters Syndicate President José Tirado said the amendments proposed in Senate Bill (SB) 569 would increase the firefighters’ salary increase from $125 to $250 a month using the surplus funds of a 3% service charge to the commonwealth’s fire and branch insurance companies.

“We hope the FOMB does not object to this,” Tirado said, adding that the legislation would “do justice to those public servants who represent the island’s first line of defense.”

SB 569 also states that, after allocating the surplus funds to increase the officers’ salaries, the remainder can be used “to restore fire stations, purchase equipment necessary to respond to emergencies, such as fire trucks, personal protection equipment, uniforms and miscellaneous equipment related to the work of the Puerto Rico Fire Bureau and/or improve its benefits such as life insurance and others.”

The legislation, requested by the union, has support from multiple political parties in the upper chamber.

Among the authors are Sens. Ramón Ruiz Nieves and Elizabeth Rosa Vélez from the Popular Democratic Party; Sens. Gregorio Matías, William Villafañe and Henry Neumann from the New Progressive Party; Citizens’ Victory Movement Senate spokesperson Ana Irma Rivera Lassén; and Independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot.

Ruiz Nieves, who chairs the Senate Government Committee, said the bill is meant to support the some 1,600 firefighters who currently serve on the island.

As for the surplus funds, the lawmaker said the wage increase is set to use around $4.8 million from $11.2 million in funds that remained from collections of the aforementioned insurance service charges.

“This has nothing to do with a salary base raise, this is meant to do social justice to firefighters,” Ruiz Nieves said.

He noted that the Senate is evaluating SB 441, which would increase the Puerto Rico Fire Bureau members’ monthly base salary to $2,250.

Currently, island firefighters have a $1,500 monthly salary.

Rosa Vélez said the Senate is committed and joined forces in order to provide firefighters a better quality of life.

“It takes courage to stand up for workers, but it must be done,” she said. “That money is there; you don’t have to look for it. Our first responders deserve respect.”

Meanwhile, Matías said SB 569 “is not a grandstand bill.”

“Now it is up to [oversight board executive director Natalie] Jaresko and the Fiscal Control Board not to put a stop to it,” he said.

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