Labor union urges Puerto Rico gov’t to stand firm against layoffs, salary cuts
SAN JUAN – Annette González, the president of the United Public Servants of Puerto Rico (SPU by its Spanish initials), on Wednesday urged the Government of Puerto Rico to stand firm in its position of not laying off public employees or eliminating their year-end pay known as the Christmas Bonus.
“This would be disastrous for working families and the country’s fragile economy,” González said in a statement in which she also proposed areas where spending and costs could be reduced.
“Affecting the working class and their families once again is not an option. The Government must stand firm in its position. As a union we are clear that affecting the rights and benefits of workers will not improve the economic situation of the country and will instead continue its contraction, further harming our country and the public service offered to our people.
“Although at the beginning of this year, the Executive’s vision was consistent with the rigid vision of the Fiscal Control Board, we understand its positive change in favor of the people of Puerto Rico and that is why we urge you to remain firm in this fight,” said the leader of the union of more than 20,000 workers in a dozen agencies.
González listed the government-budget items that could be cut or substantially reduced to achieve this objective. She focused on the salaries of politically appointed employees, “which in many cases exceed what is reasonable in a country with fiscal problems”; and spending on materials and equipment “that do not have a common public purpose but benefit private individuals.”
In addition, she highlighted the multimillion-dollar government contracts “to work with public images of the Executive and Government agencies such as the renewal of the contract to lobbyist Manny Ortiz’s company for $690,000.”
González said one of the developments that has surprised her most from the administration is that “despite living the worst fiscal crisis in our history, it has stood out for giving the highest salaries to heads of agencies in our country.” She pointed to the Education Secretary, “who earns $144,000 more than her predecessor, the Secretary of Justice, who earns almost $35,000 more than her predecessor, an amount that the Insurance Commissioner also makes in excess, the secretary of the DRNA [Department of Natural and Environmental Resources] who makes $21,696 more than her predecessor,” among others.
She also emphasized the “excessive cost of this government’s strategy of creating additional structures to put agencies under an umbrella with the excuse that this would generate great savings, an action that has not been productive, that has generated greater bureaucracy and greater waste.” She used the Public Safety Department as an example, “whose first excessive cost was the salary of the new agency head, of $248,000 per year; this without counting salaries, equipment, offices, etc., that come as a result of this new bureaucracy.”
“If savings are achieved by the agencies, these should be destined to serve the people and provide adequate resources to provide greater service, instead of spending them on luxury vehicles and contracts to friends. Austerity cannot continue in one direction, we all have to adjust to the economic reality of Puerto Rico and not only expect that the working class and Puerto Rican families of low and middle income are the only ones affected,” González stressed.
SPU is Council 95 is an affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the largest trade union of public employees in the United States.