• The Star Staff

Public workers retirees urge governor to convene a special session to approve retirement system bill

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

The Pensions Defense Front and other public worker unions on Wednesday called on Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to summon a new special session so the Legislative Assembly can take up both House Bill (HB) 2434 and HB 2572, the Dignified Retirement Law and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Retirement System Law, respectively.

Different organizations from the public sector gathered at Calle Fortaleza to hand over a letter demanding that Vázquez and legislators address the aforementioned bills, which remain unaddressed and would guarantee protections for pensions. Eulalia Centeno Ramos, a member of the Retirees Chapter of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation (FMPR by its Spanish initials), told the Star that the governor still has the opportunity to open up another session as the bills were approved unanimously by the House of Representatives, yet the Senate put a stop to them and, instead, a measure that would have elevated pensions to a constitutional rank equal to that of general obligations was submitted.

“We understand that the bills have attained all the requirements that the Financial Oversight and Management Board requested. They are defensible bills, they are bills where there is money to fulfill them. At this moment, the decision is in her hands, so she could walk out of La Fortaleza in glory and in defense of this country’s pensioners,” Ramos Centeno said. “We want to see these bills prioritized as laws that comply with the PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act] Law.”

The retired teacher and FMPR member also demanded that legislators from the majority make “a serious commitment” to approving the bills that could bring justice for the island’s retirees.

“Both bills defend the interest of both retirees and active government workers. That is why hundreds of thousands [of citizens] will be waiting to see how legislators will act,” she said. “The elected officials must respond and represent our citizens and their needs. If they turn their backs on our rights, they should not continue occupying their positions.”

Meanwhile, Pensions Defense Front Director Pedro Pastrana Ortiz said HB 2434 is part of the pensioners’ and public workers’ agenda because it establishes a public policy of “zero budget cuts.”

“[The bill] creates a Unified Retirement System for central government employees, the educational system and the judicial branch,” Pastrana Ortiz said. “It establishes a mechanism to capitalize the system and return the benefits that have been taken away from retirees.”

The Puerto Rican University Professors Association President Ángel Rodríguez said meanwhile that HB 2572 “provides for the current defined benefit retirement plan to be maintained, stops the increases in the retirement age and halts any intention to freeze employee contributions to the UPR Retirement Trust.”

Members of the Pensions Defense Front called on the government to act swiftly and demanded justice for active public workers and retirees who, they said, “want what belongs to them and what they worked for all their lives.”