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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Torres Cruz: Section of HJR 278 threatens ex-PREPA workers’ pension rights

Rep. Luis Raúl Torres Cruz

By The Star Staff

After reviewing House Joint Resolution (HJR) 278, Popular Democratic Party Rep. Luis Raúl Torres Cruz charged Thursday that the Financial Oversight and Management Board intends to deprive former Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) employees of their acquired pension rights.

Hundreds of PREPA employees went to work for other government agencies after the management of PREPA’s transmission and distribution system was taken over by the private consortium LUMA Energy last year. Those workers were slated to keep their pension benefits.

“After careful evaluation of what is stated in this resolution, it is obvious to me that the Board’s intention is to deprive PREPA employees who went on to work for other agencies through the mobility process of their acquired rights to retire from the PREPA Employees Retirement System [SREAEE by its Spanish initials],” the lawmaker said. “This is what can be interpreted from what is established in section 11 of HJR 278.”

The resolution calls for the government to disburse $23.2 billion to pay creditors and bondholders. U.S. District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain recently confirmed a debt adjustment plan for the central government that would restructure some $33 billion in debt.

Torres Cruz noted that section 11 of the resolution is related to the SREAEE. The legislation states that the funds that the Office of Management and Budget (OGP) must allocate to the PREPA employee pension fund will only be released after that office and the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF) provide, to the satisfaction of the oversight board, a formal written legal opinion that identifies the legal basis to support allowing former PREPA employees who were transferred to the central government to continue to participate in PREPA’s retirement system. The oversight board believes the PREPA workers should be enrolled in the Defined Contribution pension plan established by Act 106. Torres Cruz said that goes against the language of Act 120 of 2018, the Law to Transform the Energy System.

“When reviewing the language of Act 120-2018, it is clear that PREPA employees who were transferred to other agencies, as well as those who become employees of PREPA’s contracting parties, will retain all rights acquired in accordance with the laws, norms, collective agreements and regulations that are applicable to them, as well as the privileges, obligations and status with respect to any existing pension system,” the legislator said. “Therefore, there is no reason for the Board to attempt to violate the acquired rights of these workers.”

Torres Cruz said he will ask House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez to repeal the language from resolution that contradicts Act 120 of 2018. He said many of the PREPA workers who decided to move to other agencies did so with the understanding that they would be able to keep their pension benefits under PREPA.

“This would constitute an illegal act against these employees,” Torres Cruz emphasized.

The lawmaker said he would be filing amendments to eliminate Section 11 of HJR 278 and to reinforce the language of Act 20 of 2018, so that former PREPA employees are not deprived of their acquired right in the PREPA Employees Retirement System.

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