• The Star Staff

PBA unions going to court over plan to shift responsibility, FEMA funds for school renovations

By The Star Staff

Public Buildings Authority (PBA) workers are going to court over a Puerto Rico government plan to transfer the maintenance and construction of some 425 schools using funds allocated for that purpose by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the island Department of Education because, they say, such a transfer would violate the PBA’s charter law.

Heads of two PBA labor unions said a recent decision by the PBA’s board goes against the bankruptcy procedures under Title III of the PROMESA Law. PBA filed for bankruptcy in September 2019.

The Union of Office Employees and Professionals and the Independent Union of Employees of the Public Buildings Authority, represented by their respective legal advisers, will challenge in U.S. District Court an agreement between the PBA and the Education Department. The unions rely on the fact that they are PBA creditors.

The challenge is based on two fundamental legal approaches: First, the agreement between PBA and the Education Department violates PBA’s charter law, which does not allow it to transfer or delegate to persons or agencies of the central government that are not public corporations its duty to build, repair and provide maintenance to public structures that guarantee public debt.

Second, there is a judicial process under Title III of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, and neither the PBA nor Education have requested the permission of the bankruptcy court or informed creditors of the agreement.

Roberto Maldonado Nieves, an attorney hired by the unions, said at a news conference at the Minillas Government Center that the transaction between the PBA and the Department of Education, called the “Inter-agency Understanding Agreement,” presented to the PBA board of directors by the secretary of Education and endorsed by PBA Executive Director Melitza López Pimentel, goes against the best interests of the island and endangers the livelihoods of dozens of PBA workers.

“Transferring those responsibilities and the money to an agency of the Government of Puerto Rico that has neither the legal nor the constitutional responsibility to be in charge of the properties that it rents from PBA makes precarious those public assets that also serve as as a guarantee to bondholders,” said Freddie Rodríguez Rohena, president of the Union of Office Employees and Professionals of the PBA.

Both Maldonado Nieves and Rodríguez Rohena said the transfer action, which is promoted by the current Education secretary, was part of the agenda of former Secretary Julia Keleher, who is currently awaiting trial in federal court for serious accusations of corruption.

The PBA was created by law in 1958 as the public entity responsible for the construction and maintenance of government buildings, which today include 425 schools, 53 government centers, 107 police stations, 14 fire stations and 30 judicial centers, among others.

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