SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor signed legislation Monday that will award more rights to private sector workers in the U.S. territory as he defied a federal control board that said the move would be considered a violation of a federal statute.
“This new law makes it more attractive and safer to enter the workforce at a time when the vast majority of companies are looking for employees, and when we need more workers to advance the reconstruction of Puerto Rico,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said, referring to the island’s struggle to recover from Hurricane Maria and recent earthquakes.
The measure increases private sector worker benefits and time off, including for those who only work part-time, and reinstates protections against unjustified dismissals.
Vacations for full-time employees will increase to 1.25 days per month, while part-time workers will for the first time receive half-a-day per month for vacation and one day for sickness.
In addition, the accumulated work hours to be eligible for a traditional Christmas bonus are reduced from 1,350 hours to 700 hours at big employers and to 900 hours for small- and medium-size enterprises.
The probationary period for new employees is reduced to three months and overtime in excess of 10 hours is to be paid double time in flexitime agreements or time-and-a-half if there is no flexitime agreement.
In signing the legislation, Pierluisi challenged the federal control board overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances that had warned it would hurt the island’s economy as it tries to emerge from the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
On June 13, the board issued a letter threatening that it had the power to prevent the governor from signing the bill into law and that if approved, it would be considered a violation of a federal statute.
“I completely reject the board’s habitual encroachment on our elected officials’ constitutional duty to set and determine Puerto Rico’s public policy,” the governor wrote in a letter he sent Monday to the board’s chairman.
Pierluisi argued the the legislation will increase labor force participation and improve Puerto Rico’s economy. The board has warned it would worsen the 38% labor participation rate on the island of 3.2 million people and deprive it of revenue growth.
“I totally disagree,” the governor wrote. “The board has no data to support its assertion.”
A spokeswoman for the board said it would review the legislation to ensure it is consistent with the island's newest fiscal plan, which serves as an economic blueprint.