This afternoon, the House and the Senate will begin the work of the extraordinary session convened yesterday by Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares in a new attempt to obtain the repeal of the Unjust Dismissal Law (Law 80-1976).
However, the chances of this happening have been questioned since it is not expected that enough legislators will attend to the Capitol in order to approve the measures proposed by the Governor.
Yesterday, through a televised message of less than ten minutes, the governor announced that he will insist on the repeal of the statute that offers benefits to employees of the private sector in cases of unjustified dismissals to comply with an agreement signed with the Oversight Board as part of the budget negotiation process for the fiscal year that began on Sunday.
"The ordinary session of the Legislature ended last Saturday, not being able to comply with the agreement that we had reached with the Board. Unfortunately, the Board has certified a new Fiscal Plan, with a budget that contains higher cuts than expected, affecting the payment of the Christmas bonus and risking other benefits for workers (of the public sector), pensioners and funds for essential services," said Rosselló Nevares.
Yesterday morning, the Governor signed the budget approved last week by the Legislative Assembly, which amounts to $ 8.709 billion. Meanwhile, the federal agency’s version amounts to $ 8.757 billion. Although the income and expenses proposal of the Board is greater, it imposes additional cuts in certain items since the labor statute was not repealed.
"The rejection of the agreement with the Board leads us towards chaos of congressional disputes and controversies that can only plunge us into recession and job losses," said the Governor.
The Legislative Assembly discussed several legislative pieces in the last month to repeal Law 80, but the Governor endorsed the version approved by the House with the amendments submitted by Senator Miguel Romero. This proposed amending Act 100 against Employment Discrimination to establish a series of fixed payments in cases in which it is proved judicially that an employer dismissed a worker for any of the causes detailed in the law.
It was not possible to contact Romero last night. The President of the Senate, Thomas Rivera Schatz, said in a radio interview (NotiUno) that he is traveling.
In addition to the repeal of Law 80, Rosselló Nevares included in the call for the extraordinary session three other projects to create a new contributory model -which began to be discussed in the ordinary session-, to establish payment plans so that the municipalities cover their debts with public corporations and government agencies, as well as another one to increase unemployment benefits for individuals. These last two, as well as the repeal of Law 80, will be new projects that would be filed today.
Minutes after the Governor offered his message, both the House Speaker, Carlos "Johnny" Méndez, and the Senate President warned that multiple legislators had already announced they will not be in Puerto Rico during the month of July.
The ordinary session ended on June 30 and the next ordinary session begins in August.
"We will be invoking our colleagues to fulfill our constitutional duty and, if we have the quorum needed, we will open the extraordinary session," said Méndez in written statements.
For his part, Rivera Schatz was not available yesterday for an interview with this newspaper. However, in statements made to radio and television media he criticized the Governor’s insistence on the repeal of Law 80, a measure that does not have the support of the Senate.
"The Governor had information, both from the House and the Senate, that there are legislators on vacation. It should not provoke unnecessary controversy (with this call). In that spirit of little communication and lack of information, he understands that he will approve in a short period of time something that has already been defeated," said Rivera Schatz in a radio interview, where he also regretted not having been notified in advance about the extraordinary session.
Legislators of the parliamentary minorities criticized the convocation and the position of the Governor, because they assure that he is yielding to the Board.
Independence Party Senator, Juan Dalmau criticized that there are still no economic studies to support the repeal of the statute.
"The Governor resigned to rule on behalf of Puerto Ricans. Between being the Governor of the Puerto Ricans or the Governor of the Board, with his message he announces that he is the Governor of the Board. To insist on repealing Law 80, taking away the rights of hundreds of thousands of private employees at the whim of the Board, is to turn his back to the people," said Dalmau.
Likewise, the spokesman of the popular minority in the House, Rafael "Tatito" Hernández, maintained that the work agenda for the extraordinary session makes "the attack on the working people" clear.
"The Governor speaks of two roads. Because he, instead of defending the people, puts all the weight on the workers and with his legislation he is sending a clear and blunt message: that his public policy is firing people," said Hernández.
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