The deadlock lies in the reduction of the employer’s contribution to the health insurance plan, according to various representatives. (horizontal-x3)
The deadlock lies in the reduction of the employer’s contribution to the health insurance plan, according to various representatives. (Ramón Tonito Zayas)

Despite the imminent possibility of amending House Bill 938, which disrupts the benefits acquired by public employees, by press time the measure still lacked the votes necessary to pass.

Of the 26 lawmakers that make up the delegation of the New Progressive Party (PNP, by its Spanish acronym) in the House, 14 didn’t favor the bill.

To pass a measure in the House, which planned to meet today at 1:00 p.m., at least 26 votes in favor are required.

The deadlock lies in the reduction of the employer’s contribution to the health insurance plan, according to various representatives consulted by El Nuevo Día at the end of the caucus, which began at close to 5:00 p.m. and extended to after 8:00 p.m.

According to the bill sent by La Fortaleza for approval by the Legislature, the contribution by employers to the health plan could be reduced to $100.

Carlos “Johnny” Méndez, House speaker, called a new caucus meet for today at midday.

In the Senate, the administration bill –in its present form- also has little support, starting with the president of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, who yesterday committed to work out an “as sensitive and effective” bill as possible. 

He warned, however, that the position by public employees cannot be that of “I’m not going to contribute a thing.”

“We understand the urgency of addressing this, but we are going to do it right. Just like the Governor discharges his responsibility, we will discharge our,” said the legislative leader after attending a joint hearing of the House and Senates’ finance committees.

Without going into detail as to the possible amendments, Rivera Schatz did mentioned two of his biggest concerns: the reduction of the employer’s contribution to the health insurance plan and that the measure permanently strips workers of some benefits. 

In that regard, Rivera Schatz said they are going to propose a bill in the Senate that includes wording on committing to certain metrics for fiscal recovery and for the government to gradually restore the benefits that it will limit with this legislation. “Our goal is to defend the workers, our goal is to stay away or at least try and keep the health insurance plan untouched, but there is a reality,” he said.

Bill 938 is part of the package of measures that the Executive submitted to reduce government expenses by $1,623 million. The reduction in the employer’s contribution to the employees’ health insurance plan would represent an estimated savings of $131 million, according to data that surfaced during the legislative discussion of the bill. 

“To me, that (the health plan) is essential. Leaves for regular vacation or sickness, that is a sacrifice that we can all make,” he said.

But Annete González, from the Puerto Rican Workers Union (SPT, by its Spanish acronym), indicated that, what the State may see as a savings, for the workers it would be a detriment to their quality of life. It would mean limiting access to health services. 

“This measure is conceived in light of a fiscal adjustment plan, imposed by the OB, which only purpose is to balance the checkbook on the basis of mathematical exercises, without regard for the social impact,” she said during a public hearing in the House yesterday after union leaders marched to Congress on Monday demanding to be heard.

During her remakes, González said that the reduction in the contribution to the health insurance plan could represent a salary cut of between $50 and $150 per month.

“For some time now, it has become customary to declare an emergency to then attack and cutback on worker’ rights,” denounced Pedro Irene Maymí, president of the Authentic Independent Union (UIA, by its Spanish acronym) and the Puerto Rican Workers’ Union.

The various leaders maintained that, throughout the years, workers have made different concessions to the Government’s fiscal crisis, included in Law 7, passed under the administration of Luis Fortuño; Law 66 of Alejandro García  Padilla and, most recently, Law 3 of 2017, which extended collective bargaining agreement in their present form through to 2021.

Uncertain. Neither Rivera Schatz nor the house speaker uttered a word about specific amendments, and neither did they confirm whether the bill will be addressed before April 30, the deadline to deliver next fiscal year’s budget to the OB. 

 “I have no deadline, I don’t work for the Board. Whoever works for the Board might have one; I do not. I work in coordination with the Governor of Puerto Rico and the House speaker,” he said.

Approval of the measure, he said, will depend on the amendments included in the House. “If there are things that are unacceptable, there will be trouble,” he pointed out.

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