UPR unions to governor: Include retirement plan bill in extraordinary session
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
At least six syndicates from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) sat in front of the Capitol on Thursday to demand that Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced include House Resolution 2572 in an extraordinary session to seek its approval.
More than 19,000 active and retired employees from the higher education institution are still waiting to see if both the island House and Senate approve the bill as it was endorsed by all of the legislators. Retirement System Board President Eduardo Berríos said it is still a surprise that the Senate did not approve a bill that protects the university’s retirement system, as he said it was one of the most sustainable such systems of any public agency.
“This bill was left pending in the last extraordinary session by the Senate. The bill, which was authored by [Rep. María de] Lourdes Ramos, was approved unanimously by the House of Representatives. This picks up what Resolution 655 had included, which was approved by both the House and the Senate, yet it was vetoed by the governor,” Berríos said. “This bill was born after university members felt the need to protect the trust of the Retirement System with defined benefits and to protect it from a governing board, or the Financial Oversight and Management Board, who want to dismantle it and turn it into a 401k trust fund.”
Puerto Rican Association of University Professors President Ángel Rodríguez said meanwhile that the bill benefits all personnel from managers to handymen, as the university’s retirement system has been functioning under experts from the Retirement System Board, an arrangement that he says keeps it transparent and auditable. On the other hand, if the governing board assumes control of the system, they are not under the obligation to negotiate with members about the decisions that would take place.
“[The governing board] has already tried making fundamental changes to the [retirement] system, such as increasing the retirement age and changing the defined benefits, which means how much an employee will be compensated once they retire, to a defined contribution, which puts your contributions into a stock exchange and, once you retire, you will not know if you will be rewarded or not,” Rodríguez said.
When The Star asked what the unions would do if the governor were to resign due to ongoing controversies, Brotherhood of Non-Academic Employees spokesperson Janelle Santana said this was a chance for either the governor or the system to make an honest and valuable choice.
“We must mention that we have been looking for a draft consensus. Basically, we have everyone who represents the employees of the university: faculty members, non-academics, managers, and retirees, who are the most important, supervisors and directors,” Santana said. “If we endorse this bill, it is because we see that the [retirement] system works.”