Osceola County Clerk of the Court Armando Ramírez was in the news for paying Christmas bonuses to his staff this year, according to a 9 Investigates story by WFTV-Channel 9.
The story doesn’t state the holiday bonus amount and apparently Ramírez broke no law. But the move did raise eyebrows because the Florida Clerk of Courts earlier this year asked county court clerks to reduce expenses by 5 percent due to state budget cuts. In Osceola, Ramírez responded by laying off five staffers, according to an Orlando Sentinel report dated July.
“I feel as though I am the general in this office and my employees are the army, and I feel we need to always reward our soldiers,” Ramírez told Channel 9 anchor and reporter Jorge Estevez.
I wonder if Ramírez, who is Osceola’s first Hispanic and Puerto Rican court clerk, was following the Puerto Rico tradition of government and the private sector awarding Christmas bonuses.
It’s part of a 1969 island law, requiring that “employers pay bonuses to all employees who have worked more than 700 hours” during the previous 12-month qualifying period.
More specifically, Act 148 states companies with fewer than 15 qualifying employees must pay holiday bonuses equal to 3 percent of earned wages but no more than $300. Companies with over 16 employees pay 6 percent, or a maximum of $600. Bonuses must be paid before Dec. 31 each year.
Companies “in a net loss position” can opt out by making their case to the island’s labor department no later than November 30.
It may surprise people to know that Puerto Rico’s central government this week paid bonuses to its employees despite the island’s ongoing fiscal crisis and negotiations with holders of more than $70 billion in debt. (Puerto Rico has a $1 billion debt payment due in January 2016.)
Two justifications stand out.
First, it’s the law and perhaps the government didn’t want to set a bad example or precedent for private industry to opt out as well.
Second, the holiday bonuses inject much-needed cash in the island economy as workers buy Christmas food and gifts, boosting retailers’ year-end prospects.
Puerto Rico wages are low relative to the states, with median household income of $19,158, according to census data. The island’s economy has been sinking under an economic recession for nearly 10 years with no end in sight.
Read more about Puerto Rico’s Christmas bonus law here.
˜˜María Padilla – Editor