• The San Juan Daily Star

Teachers appeal to Judge Swain to save their pensions

Puerto Rico Teachers Association President Víctor Bonilla Sánchez

By The Star Staff

Puerto Rico Teachers Association (AMPR by its Spanish initials) President Víctor Bonilla Sánchez on Tuesday insisted that his organization and its Local Union, through their legal representatives, made a convincing case before Judge Laura Taylor Swain in their objection to the debt adjustment plan (PAD by its Spanish acronym).

He said he sought to demonstrate that teachers are the group of public servants who will receive the worst treatment if the plan, also referred to as the plan of adjustment, or POA, is approved. While the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico has said that under the plan current pensions won’t be cut, the oversight board has also said it has control over the plan and could alter future benefits.

“Under the debt adjustment plan, active teachers will not only suffer from their pensions being frozen, but their retirement age will also be delayed,” Bonilla Sánchez said at a press conference. “That delay is at least eight to 10 years in most cases. The PAD also does not contemplate the claims that teachers have, as a result of the treatment that this plan gives them.”

José Vélez Castro, interim vice president of the AMPR, said that with the completion of the final arguments of the opponents of the plan, only the response arguments of the oversight board remained and the case would then be submitted for adjudication by Judge Swain. The lawyers of the AMPR and its Local Union are analyzing alternatives before the possible determination of the court to confirm, or not, the PAD.

“The AMPR tried to negotiate a better deal in front of the board, an effort that was plagued with lies and misinformation by other groups such as the Teachers Federation and FADEP [the Spanish acronym for the Public Education Defense Coalition],” Vélez Castro said. “These groups today have nothing to offer the teaching profession.”

Sybaris Morales Paniagua, interim general secretary of the AMPR Local Union, said that if the DAP is confirmed as it is, the freezing of the teachers’ pension plan will be effective the same day.

“What we emphasize will happen: those teachers who do not meet the requirements to retire as of the approval of the [debt adjustment] plan, will see their retirement frozen immediately and their new retirement age will be 63 years of age,” Morales Paniagua stressed. “From that moment on, the possibility of a disability pension will not be available, if they need it, and they will not be able to buy time, either.”

She clarified, however, that “those teachers who at that date already meet the criteria to retire will not lose that right.”

“These teachers can remain working or qualify for retirement in accordance with the requirements of the law and regulations for these purposes,” she said.

Regarding the Social Security benefit, Bonilla Sánchez said that if the DAP is approved, everyone who is under 45 years of age will automatically qualify for Social Security, on a date not yet established.

“Those who are 45 or over may enter by filling out an application for these purposes and submitting within the term granted by the government,” he said.

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