Controversy Unfolding in Selection of Teachers Union Rep
SAN JUAN – Teachers began voting Monday to choose a union to represent them before the Education Department. Voting began in Arecibo and Camuy with a “yes or no” ballot as the only option because the Teachers Association was the only organization to collect the required endorsements.
Mercedes Martínez, president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation, gave Caribbean Business her impressions on the process.
“First of all, that farce cannot be called an election, because the word ‘election’ comes from the word ‘choice,’ and Puerto Rican teachers don’t have choices [in this election]. They are imposing a vote in which people decide ‘Teachers Association, yes or no,’ and the only alternative on the ballot, unfairly, is the Teachers Association.
“We complied with the endorsements. The commission called for 20% of the union’s members. We delivered 6,414 on June 10, and the [membership number] given to the department of first instance was 29,083 teachers. The department failed to comply, and that is why we say there is chicanery between the [Education] secretary and the Teachers Association, because the secretary sent a list of the [membership] and is supposed to send a copy of that list of eligible voters to all organizations interested in competing that have submitted endorsements.
“The secretary never gave that list to the Federation, and we had to resort to the committee with a motion to give us a copy of the list, and when the list arrived six months later, in December 2015, we realized there were more than 280 school principals, superintendents and facilitators included in that list of what was obviously administrative staff that have no right to endorse and isn’t part of the bargaining unit.”
Caribbean Business (CB): Obviously, what you claim is illegal.
“Definitely, so much so that the appellate commission understood our point when we showed them the names and surnames of those directors, and then, to our surprise, when we continued examining, we realized there are more than 100 teachers who are not on the list, who are permanent and were entitled to endorse. We have declarations by teachers who endorsed us and do not appear on the list the department gave us.”
Martínez said that in the teachers’ declarations, they explain their situation to the Appellate Committee, but it did not rule in favor.
“We are asking for democracy. We complied with the endorsements, but this process has been fully rigged. We complied but they want to leave us out for 21 endorsements, without considering our argument.”
The president of the Teachers Association, Aida Díaz, also spoke with CB about the process in which the organization she represents is the only one teachers can vote on.
“Today’s election is really an exercise for teachers to decide whether to be represented under the parameters of Act 45 in a negotiating table with the secretary of Education. This implies that someone sit with the secretary to stop the unilateral impositions of the Department of Education. It has been eight years since teachers lost their collective agreement, and since then their working conditions have been deteriorating, to the extent that janitors, and school office and cafeteria workers have better working conditions than teachers.”
CB: But this election is really about a “yes or no.”
“It’s a ‘yes or no’ because other organizations were unable to reach 20% of the endorsements required by the commission. We were required 30% of the teachers. For them, as interveners, only 20% was required, but they still could not make it.”
CB: How do you respond to the allegations of illegality outlined by the Teachers Federation?
“Right now, the court has ruled against their cases. They took three cases to court and the three were ruled against. If they have evidence, they should present it, but all cases being ruled against, which means the process was carried out as it should.”
CB: If elected, which issues should be addressed first?
“First is to work with the complaint and grievances process because right now there is nowhere to go when an abuse is committed, when rights are violated, except for the courts or the committee, and that takes months or even years. The size of groups, the number of special education students and the working conditions of those teachers has to be worked on. You have to work with the teacher evaluation system. There are innumerable situations that teachers are going through right now, which need a collective agreement and someone with the rule of law. I sit with the secretary, argue and fight, protest, we march and picket or whatever, but the rule of law is different and that’s what teachers need to sit face to face and establish how the educational system should be.”
Voting continues Tuesday in the municipalities of Aguada and Moca.