PRWOW News Service
Union Leaders Disappointed By The Government
By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin
February 23, 2002
The salary increase promised to government employees have left much to be desired according to several union leaders in Puerto Rico, especially after Management and Budget Office Director Melba Acosta announced that the salary increase of $100 a month proposed during Gov. Sila Calderon's State of the Commonwealth address won't become effective immediately, but in July.
Based on the argument that there aren't enough funds for salary increases, Acosta also said the Christmas bonus increase from $500 to $1000 proposed during Calderon's electoral campaign, won't be considered for now.
Although a disappointment for many, the announcement didn't take Brotherhood of Social Services Workers (HTSS by its Spanish acronym) Executive Director Luis Pedraza Leduc by surprise, as he said "this was something to be expected"
According to the union leader, reality has shown that, although the announcement of a salary increase is always welcome, nothing is definite until a legislation has been approved.
Pedraza Leduc referred to the past two salary increases as an example. In 2000, the salary increase for public employees was legislated so that it could only apply to those who had at least one year on the job. This means that if an employee had been working for six months, he or she was not eligible for the increase.
Also in 2001, the salary increase was made to only apply public employees who hadn't received previous raises in a year. For example, if a public employee received an increase of $75 a month during that year, he or she wouldn't receive another $100, but $25 to complete the $100 increase.
And if an employee received an increase of $100 or more, the he or she wouldn't be eligible for anything else.
"That's why even when the say [this year's increase] will be in July, it won't guarantee anything because [the increase] can be subjected to other requirements at the time of legislation," Pedraza Leduc said.
The HTSS leader assured that the true problem here is a lack of a real negotiation process between the employers and the employees.
"What all this controversy goes to show is the need to amend Law 45 so there can be a real negotiation," said Pedraza Leduc, who believes the right to strike and the right to negotiate health insurance plans, post duties, and retirement plans should be included in the aforementioned law.
For his part, Roberto Pagan, president of the Puerto Rican Workers Syndicate, said there are still many doubts as to where the money for the salary increase will come from.
Pagan added that the members of the syndicate are disappointed with the fact that the increase will begin in July, instead of January, as it was originally intended.
On another note, Alejandro De Jesus, president of the Management Employees Association of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewers Authority (Prasa) said to be dissatisfied with the compensation given by the government, although not for the same reasons.
De Jesus explained that because they belong to a public corporation and are not part of the central government, Prasa employees don't get to benefit from the $100 salary increase unless it is extended to public corporations at the time of legislation.
However, De Jesus noted that since 1992 the government has been "strangulating" the managerial sector by not complying with the performance evaluation nor with the salary increases established by law.
The association president explained that the Law of Public Employees and the Prasa regulations state that the Prasa Government Board should evaluate the performance of each employee, who would in turn be compensated according to the result. Those with a satisfactory evaluation will receive a salary increase of $30 a month; those with a good evaluation receive $60, and those with an excellent evaluation receive $120.
De Jesus said every time the association expresses its intention of going to court, the Prasa Government Board always settles by paying a bonus to all employees, something that has happened four times since 1992.
The association leader believes this is unfair, as it defeats the purpose of compensating those who really deserve it. De Jesus also complained that the Government Board hasn't been complying with the increases based on years of service.
"Those increases for years of service are not being granted by Prasa and one must admit that this influences the state of a public employee, because an employee who is dissatisfied with his or her pay, will not feel inclined to give his or her 100%," said De Jesus.
De Jesus also said he is convinced that this is being done with the intention of demoralizing the public workers so that the government will have an excuse to justify its privatization practices by saying that the work performed by public workers isn't the best.
"It is all about undermining the image of the public sector to satisfy private interests," De Jesus concluded.