By José M. Villegas, Secretary-Treasurer, AFM-Local 555
On January 27th, 2022, the Governor of Puerto Rico announced an agreement with the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (FOMB) to commit $20 million dollars in annual incremental funding, over the next ten years, for the stabilization of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra Musicians’ Pension Fund. This contribution has been included in the Certified Budget Plan approved by the FOMB for Puerto Rico’s next fiscal year, which begins in July 2022.
Currently, the PRSO Musicians’ Pension Fund has a nearly $30 million deficit. The deficit accumulated over several decades, in part due to previous failures by PRSO management in fulfilling their annual contribution obligations for the plan. The $20 million contribution negotiated with the FOMB will greatly assist the Pension Fund’s longevity; also, the fund’s stabilization plan will include an upcoming restructuring process that would guarantee a healthy fund for current and future PRSO’s retirees.
The agreements for next fiscal year’s Certified Budget Plan were negotiated after the Federal Court finally approved Puerto Rico’s Debt Restructuring Plan (DRP) on January 18th, 2022, which subsequently allowed more flexibility to general funding requests made to the FOMB. However, commitment from Puerto Rico’s Government to assist the PRSO Musicians’ Pension Fund was achieved thanks to the hard work of AFM-Local 555 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the PRSO Musicians’ “Save the Symphony” (Salvemos La Sinfónica) campaign, and ICSOM’s extremely valuable support in these past years.
On September 2020, ICSOM and PRSO Musicians organized a very successful Phone2Action campaign that pressured the FOMB to acknowledge the PRSO budget and Musicians’ Pension Fund difficulties. ICSOM assistance continued through 2021, with ICSOM President Paul Austin and ICSOM’s Former Chair Bruce Ridge visiting the island on September 2021. ICSOM’s visit to Puerto Rico included a formal meeting with Puerto Rico’s Governor, Pedro Pierluisi, at “La Fortaleza” (the Governor’s Executive Office), in which the Pension Fund and PRSO’s contribution to Puerto Rico’s culture, economy and education where the main topics of discussion.
President Paul Austin relayed that “ICSOM was very pleased to learn of this positive news for the dedicated musicians of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. From our meeting last September with Governor Pedro Pierluisi, he clearly was shocked when we told him that the musicians’ pension fund had not been funded adequately. During his term, the Governor has been defending pension funding of all Puerto Ricans, and to see this level of commitment for the musicians’ pension fund provides proof of his commitment. To know that the hard-working PRSO musicians will be able to retire with dignity is reassuring.”
(Note: the PRSO is almost entirely funded by Puerto Rico’s Government General Fund, and the PRSO is managed under the Corporation for the Musical Arts, a Puerto Rico government-owned corporation.)