Senators to seek ways to strengthen House minimum wage bill

By The Star Staff

Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Sen. Juan Zaragoza Gómez and independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot will work on a minimum wage bill approved earlier this week in the House of Representatives that was introduced by PDP Rep. Héctor Ferrer Santiago to help the working class.

Senators are seeking to find points of convergence between House Bill 338 approved in that body and Senate Bill 182 to strengthen legislative initiatives around the minimum wage. The House bill proposes an $8.50 minimum wage.

“Vargas Vidot and myself have worked hard to establish the ‘Minimum Wage Law of Puerto Rico’ from the Senate. After conversations with the representative Héctor Ferrer, we analyzed the opportunity to unite and magnify the bill with new amendments that strengthen it,” Zaragoza said. “Our purpose is grounded in helping the working class, which has suffered attacks for the past two years. Vargas Vidot and this public servant reached an agreement on a minimum base salary taken from different presentations received and studies carried out with the economist José Caraballo Cueto, professor of economics at the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus, who supports the increase of the minimum wage, but argues that the minimum wage should not be established based on the cost of living, but rather on the labor market. We agreed that the base figure of the minimum wage should be $8.50 since it is tempered by the cost of living of Puerto Ricans. It is important to emphasize that this base increase will be accompanied by a continuous review tool and the reestablishment of the Minimum Wage Board, which will have the expertise and the task of reviewing and gradually increasing the minimum wage so that it rises as the cost of living rises, and inflation.”

Vargas Vidot added that “urgently and immediately, an increase in the minimum wage is necessary.”

“However, it is also necessary to establish a continuous and evaluative tool that prevents that, again, we wait decades to achieve increases to the minimum wage,” he said. “What we propose are two specific things. First, we propose a new uniform minimum wage that allows us to establish a base and, at the same time, adequately remunerate Puerto Rican workers. In the second place, for the future, we propose to reestablish the Minimum Wage Board so that this entity, with the appropriate expertise, can continue to increase the minimum wage on the island prospectively.”

Caraballo Cueto has noted that the level of $8.50 is not only reasonable based on the average salary in Puerto Rico, but it would be close to the minimum wage of $7.25 in 2009 adjusted for inflation, which would be equivalent to $8.33 in 2019 when adjusted for the consumer price index of Puerto Rico.

“I appreciate the openness of my colleagues in the Senate, both Juan Zaragoza and José Vargas Vidot, and their commitment to this issue that affects so many workers,” Ferrer Santiago said. “I hope that the bill that we approved yesterday in the House will serve as the basis for the amendments that the Senate may choose to make and that we will soon be able to send the bill to the governor. Raising the minimum wage is not only an economic issue, but also a matter of social justice.”

The three legislators indicated that by uniting both bills and strengthening the one already approved by the House of Representatives with amendments, they are moving in the right direction to, finally, do wage justice to workers. It is an essential issue that should not be postponed since more than 12 years have passed since the minimum wage last saw changes in Puerto Rico, they said. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise and the fiscal situation on the island has become more difficult, they added.

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