Bonds

Unions challenge Puerto Rico board’s pension interpretation

Two sets of teachers’ unions and a judiciary association filed separate challenges to a Puerto Rico Oversight Board pension law interpretation the board has said is necessary to enact of the Plan of Adjustment.

The teachers’ unions filed in the final hour before the 5 p.m. AST Friday deadline that Puerto Rico bankruptcy Judge Laura Taylor Swain had set. The judiciary group filed Thursday.

Puerto Rico bankruptcy Judge Laura Taylor Swain has set aside part of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for arguments over Act 53.

Swain has set aside part of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for arguments over Act 53’s meaning and the board’s proposed pension changes.

One challenge was filed by Asociación de Maestros Puerto Rico and the Asociación de Maestros Puerto Rico-Local Sindical. The other teachers’ challenge was filed by Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, Grupo Magisterial Educadores(as) por la Democracia, Unidad, Cambio, Militancia y Organización Sindical, and Unión Nacional de Ducadores y Tabajadores del Educación.

Asociación Puertorriqueña de la Judicatura filed the brief for the judiciary.

The legislature passed and the governor signed into law Act 53 on Oct. 26. The law authorizes the plan’s new restructured bonds and related Contingent Value Instruments. It conditions the new bonds on the board following through on several commitments to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico government and to the municipal governments. It explicitly says there will be no cuts to the monthly defined benefits for those already receiving those pensions.

At a Nov. 1 bankruptcy hearing, board attorney Martin Bienenstock said the Act 53 refers to “zero cuts to pensions” and has similar language elsewhere. He said unless Swain ruled the board’s plans to change the pensions were legal and not barred by Act 53, the board’s proposed Plan of Adjustment would not be “implementable.”

In their filings, the unions say the “zero cuts to pensions” language bars the board’s plans to freeze the defined benefit plans of the Teachers Retirement System and Judiciary Retirement System and move employees over to defined contribution plans. The board also plans to end the cost of living increases to the two retirement plans; the unions say Law 53 also bars this.

In both teachers’ filings the unions say Swain should deny the board’s interpretation of Law 53.

In their joint filing, the Federación and Unión Nacional said, “the Plan [of Adjustment] cannot be confirmed as it contravenes [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] Section 314(b)(6) that requires the plan to be feasible for confirmation.”

The judiciary association launched arguments against the pension changes largely independent of the Law 53 language.

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