GOP Bill Would Cut Minimum Wage to $4.25 for Many in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, occupied by the United States since the American war with Spain in 1898, could see a dramatic change to its minimum wage laws.

H.R. 4900, a bill introduced in the U.S. Congress by Republicans on April 12, 2016, to address Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, would grant the governor of Puerto Rico the authority to set a minimum wage of $4.25 an hour for Puerto Rican workers under 25 years old. Employers could offer that wage for an employee’s first 5 years of work, as long as said employee remains younger than 25 (see page 76 of the bill).

The minimum wage for other workers is, like the federal minimum wage for the States, is $7.25 an hour.

This statute would revise the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. In a version enacted just a few months ago, on December 18, 2015, the U.S. determined employers could offer Puerto Rican employees under 20 a $4.25 wage for just the first 90 days of employment (see page 11 of the Act).

Nelson A. Denis, a former New York State Assembly Democrat and the author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony, wrote that the congressmen who named H.R. 4900 “PROMESA [PROMISE] for Puerto Rico” had “a perverse sense of humor.” He says the measure would slash the wages of 200,000 Puerto Ricans.

The Guardian reported in July 2015 that Puerto Rico had a 41% poverty rate. The cost of living in the territory is 13% higher than in the United States; supermarket goods are 21% more expensive. Monthly energy costs per resident average $438.21, verses $169.49 in the States.

H.R. 4900 must pass through committee before a vote can be called in the House, but is currently stalled by both Republican and Democratic disagreements and in-fighting within the Republican Party itself.

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