Manufacturers Assn. opposes minimum wage hike bill as written

By The Star Staff

The House Committee on Labor Issues and Transformation of the Pension System for a Dignified Retirement, chaired by Rep. Domingo J. Torres García, began public hearings Monday on House Bill 338, which would create the Committee for a Minimum Wage Increase in Puerto Rico that would create a methodology for increasing the local minimum wage.

“Unlike our country, which continues to have a minimum wage of $7.25, the minimum wage has increased in several states such as New York, California, Arizona, Maine, Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio and South Dakota,” Torres García said. “We are all clear and understand that the cost of living in our country continues to rise; however, the minimum wage does not. We are seeing how the jobs of our employees in private companies go to the detriment. We want to make decisions with data, in a transparent and objective way.”

Naomi Álamo from the Department of Labor and Human Resources appeared at the public hearing, along with Georyanne Ríos Álvarez from the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association.

“With an intention similar to the bill under discussion, on March 2, 2017, then-Governor Ricardo Rosselló signed Executive Order No. 2017-027,” Álamo said. “This order created the Multisectoral Committee for the Increase of the Minimum Wage, chaired by the then-secretary of Labor and Human Resources, and also composed of the secretary of the Treasury, the secretary of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym), the executive director of the Planning Board, a member of the Private Sector Coalition, a member of the labor movement, an economics expert and two additional people appointed by the governor.”

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office released in February a report that estimated that gradually increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would benefit 17 million workers, but would also reduce employment by 1.4 million people. In addition, it would lift 0.9 million people out of poverty in the United States and possibly raise the wages of another 10 million workers.

“However, it would cause the prices of products and services to rise, the overall economic output to decline slightly, and it would increase the federal budget deficit by $54 billion over the next 10 years,” Álamo said.

In support of the measure, Álamo recommended the inclusion of DDEC among the members of the government sector in the committee.

Likewise, Álamo recommended that it be clarified, expressly in the bill, if all or some members of the committee will receive some type of salary, stipends, allowances, travel expenses or similar remuneration for serving on the committee or attending the meetings.

Popular Democratic Party Rep. Héctor E. Ferrer, the bill’s author, stated that “the purpose of the measure is to do justice to our workers and protect the economy.”

Meanwhile, Ríos Álvarez from the Manufacturers Association said “the discussion of the minimum wage and its possible adjustment is a matter of the highest public interest, which deserves a balanced and calm discussion, where all sectors, the business sector, the labor sector, as well as the various civic organizations, the third sector and the public sector, must present and defend their positions and recommendations.”

In turn, he stated that the Manufacturers Association does not support the bill as it is written. However, based on his experience, he recommended that the committee be no larger than nine people, and that it include representation from the Department of Labor and Human Resources, as well as from the economic and private sector development sectors.

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