Hundreds of Workers Protest Against Labor Reform
SAN JUAN — Little by little, since wee hours in the morning, hundreds of people gathered around the Puerto Rico Convention Center, next to the Sheraton hotel, to protest against the government’s recent measures that impact workers from public and private sectors alike.
Representatives from several unions kept arriving by noon, carrying picket signs alluding to their claims.
“For the dignity of our people,” read the banner preceding the group that represented the Puerto Rican Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish acronym), while members of the Authentic Independent Union (UIA bu its Spanish initials) assured they were “combative, always.”
In reference to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act (Promesa, which also means ‘promise’ in Spanish), and their recommended budget cuts, demonstrators carried other signs reading: “promises are over;” “our promise: defend the iupi, a coloquial term for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR); “justice for workers;” “no cuts to medical services,” among hundreds of others.
The mass demonstration, organized by the Federal Workers Central (FCT), convened over 20 unions and community-based organizations, all of which joined their voices in protest outside the heavily guarded 2017 Government Caucus, sponsored by the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA).
Inside the hostelry, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González served as main speakers of the convention, where they discussed their plan of action to tackle the island’s fiscal crisis. Fiscal Oversight & Management Board Chairman José Carrión III and other public figures were to discuss several issues concerning Puerto Rico’s economic future.
“We will show this government that trust is not for sale. The truth is that today, precisely today, privatizers are gathered there with the government and the Fiscal [Oversight and] Management Board, and here people from the trust are sending them a clear message: the trust is not for sale. We will go to the streets and we will defend it with our lives,” stated Francisco “Kiko” Reyes, president of the Corporation of the State Insurance Fund’s (CFSE) union, from the back of a van used as a scaffold.
Meanwhile, tenths of demonstrators kept arriving to nearby premises to express their disapproval of the recent measures approved to comply with the Board’s demands, such as the Labor Reform and the Single Employer Act.
“The government and the Board must understand that we can’t keep accepting unfair laws that affect Puerto Rican workers [negatively]. These laws they are promoting are unfair. This absolute power they have given the governor is unfair. That labor reform is unfair; how they will affect the environment is unfair; that movement they have done against workers is unfair, and we can’t keep accepting reforms that in no way will help the country, because they won’t foster economic development,” indicated José Torres, president of the University of Puerto Rico’s Brotherhood of Exempt Non-Teaching Employees.
The anguish and discontent of many in the island’s working class with the government’s decisions became increasingly evident as more people congregated on the demonstration.
In the hotel’s back entrance, a group of demonstrators tried to take the protest inside, but they were detained by the hotel’s security staff, as well as some police officers.
“What this administration has done in merely 30 days attempts against job security and the benefits of the entire working class. Now we can’t differentiate between the private sector and the public sector. This affects us all equally, which is why we are encouraging all society, because whoever isn’t affected today, will be affected tomorrow. This will impede young workers from staying in Puerto Rico, and the exodus in search of better life conditions will get worse,” stated General Workers Union (UGT) President Gerson Guzmán.
The union leaders coincided that this is the first of other protests expected to surface during Rosselló’s administration, going so far as to suggest the possibility of eventually summoning a national strike in order to raise awareness of workers’ pleas.