Puerto Rico Labor Secretary stepping down Dec. 31
Following a year and a half at his post as Puerto Rico Labor Secretary, Carlos Rivera is stepping down for personal reasons effective Dec. 31, he confirmed in an interview with News is my Business.
“I’ll be honest when I say that I had to manage an emergency and I wasn’t going to turn my back on the employees or Puerto Rico, nor what they needed at the time. But now, I need to return to my family and the time that I owe them, as we’ve all made great sacrifices,” said Rivera, who has been in public service for 20 years.
The attorney by profession stepped into the post in June 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its negative effects on the island’s job market.
“When I came in, I found an agency with a collapsed unemployment benefits system. It was chaos, if you want to call it something and we had to face that situation with the help of the employees who were also frustrated, demoralized and somehow start to retake that operability at the agency,” Rivera said.
His announcement comes a day after confirming the adoption of a $22 million online platform to run the island’s unemployment program, that should replace the aging systems at the agency — some that date to the 1950s — and make processing applications easier for the department, the petitioner and the employer, he said.
The age of the Labor Department’s computer systems came to the forefront during the height of the pandemic, and after the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program was launched last year, opening unemployment benefits to the self-employed for the first time. System failures, unfixable errors, and the difficulty in getting help from an agency employee were the order of the day for weeks and months for thousands of Puerto Rico residents.
“The new system, which should be initially available next Summer, will allow instant interaction for the citizen who is claiming benefits as well as the employer. The turnaround time for an application should be 24 to 48 hours,” he said.
The system will also create statistics to, among other things, paint a clearer picture of current job market needs, he said.
His decision to step down at years-end has already been discussed with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi. Rivera said he will be available to go through the transition with his successor on pending initiatives, such as launching the new platform.
Rivera also mentioned the agency’s work as conflict mediator, including its voluntary intervention in the negotiations at the Ports, between stevedoring company Luis Ayala Colón Sucesores and the International Longshoremen’s Association, which for a period posed a threat to the flow of goods coming into the Port of San Juan.
The agreement announced Wednesday establishes that the parties will continue to provide service to ensure the stability of the supply chain and guarantee the economic conditions moving forward.