Governor defends Labor Reform as a step toward ‘reasonable middle ground’
By John McPhaul
Faced with criticism from trade unionists that it fell short and from small business people that it will cause a negative impact on their businesses, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia insisted on Tuesday that his objective in signing the Labor Reform bill was to ensure that people who are not motivated to seek employment do so.
“Everyone here has to do their part, everyone has to pitch in for the collective good,” the governor said at a press conference. “And it is not a matter of looking at my little farm and defending my little farm. Here we all have to think about all of Puerto Rico, about the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, about the well being of all of Puerto Rico, about the entire population of Puerto Rico …”
The governor said he was looking for a middle ground that he believes is fair and reasonable.
“On the one hand, that sector [unions] may be making a claim and I have small merchants, in the same way, making claims,” he said. “What you’re trying to do is reconcile the issue and come to a reasonable middle ground.”
He said the legislation he signed is mainly aimed at encouraging people to work, to facilitate the process of recruiting employees, to encourage those who left work to return, and to encourage those who are in the informal economy to enter the formal economy.
“Why? Because by improving fringe benefits and giving some protections to the private sector workforce, we are once again encouraging those who have not entered our workforce to do so,” Pierluisi said. “The offer is getting better. The offer for the employee is being improved. Some would like even more.”
Regarding the repeated refusal of the Financial Oversight and Management Board to give its approval to the recently signed law, the governor said: “It strikes me that what I saw reported in the media today is that the board said that it was going to review the law as approved, to see if it addresses any of its concerns or points.”
“There is a process established in the PROMESA Law [the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act] to invalidate a law duly approved by the Legislative Assembly and signed by the governor. Whether that process is activated remains to be seen,” he said. “Similarly, it remains to be seen what the [Title III bankruptcy] judge’s [Laura Taylor Swain] would be.”
On Monday, the governor verbally and in writing defended the merits of the labor reform.
“As I said, contrary to what the [oversight] board alleges, I believe that, on the contrary, this law is going to be positive for the sustainable economic development of Puerto Rico,” he said. “It will make it easier to recruit the workers we need for key areas of our economy, like construction and tourism.”
“So I disagree with the position that the board has taken,” Pierluisi said. “I also called its attention to the fact that there is no empirical economic evidence, no data right now to make a judgment that this law is going to be harmful to the economy of Puerto Rico.”
“We would have to wait a reasonable period of time to see if the law helped us in this process of Puerto Rico growing and Puerto Rico being rebuilt,” the governor added. “I already made those approaches yesterday and we are going to do them. If the board goes to the federal court, we are going to do it before the federal court.”