Labor Unions Tell Congress to Oppose Puerto Rico Rescue Bill

  • Retiree and worker rights must be protected, labor says
  • Deal struck this week on bill to shore up U.S. territory

Labor unions are urging lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to reject legislation designed to ease Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, criticizing it for failing to protect government-workers’ pensions and allowing for cuts to the island’s minimum wage.

In a letter to Congress Friday, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, Service Employees International Union and unions representing workers in the auto, aerospace, manufacturing and food industries said that the bill "provides no economic stimulus."

“Congress must, however, get back to work immediately to provide real solutions that allow Puerto Rico to negotiate a feasible debt restructuring plan, protects Puerto Rican workers and retirees, and provides economic stimulus so that the territory may achieve economic growth," according to the letter.

President Barack Obama’s administration and Republicans in Congress reached agreement Thursday over legislation, known as PROMESA, that would create a new financial control board to manage a debt restructuring, as well as to oversee the island’s finances. The island has already defaulted on some of its $70 billion in debt and faces another $2 billion payment on July 1.

The House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled next week to begin considering the legislation, which may be amended in the process.

The unions said that any restructuring should protect pension benefits and minimum wage and overtime rules. An economy in recession, high debt and "Wall Street demands for austerity" have touched off the crisis, they said.

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