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Union leader vows challenge of labor reform in court

By on March 23, 2017

SAN JUAN – Luis Pedraza Leduc, union leader and president of the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), said a coalition of unions is planning to challenge the constitutionality of the recently enacted Labor Transformation and Flexibility Act, or labor reform, that has raised concern among the island’s working class.

The union leader informed of the plan during a conference Wednesday by labor law Prof. Héctor Pérez Rivera, entitled “Labor Reform: A New Enslavement in Puerto Rico?” March 22 was Emancipation Day, commemorating the abolition of slavery from the island in 1873.

Pedraza Leduc went further and assured that the recent labor strategies adopted by the governor’s administration were no longer a conspiracy against the island’s working class and have become become a frontal assault by corporate interests amid the detriment of working conditions in Puerto Rico.

The union leader did not rule out a coalition of local unions to challenge labor reform in court. (Agustín Criollo / CB)

The union leader did not rule out a coalition of local unions to challenge labor reform in court. (Agustín Criollo / CB)

“We want today, March 22, to emphasize that we see another phase of labor slavery, when we are stripped of rights to favor capital, and it was done through labor reform. As a labor union, we maintain that the only way to defend private sector employees is through union organization. We are going to organize the workers in the private sector, since there are 700,000 private employees in Puerto Rico and only 1% are unionized,” he said.

“This has gone past being a conspiracy, because a conspiracy is carried out in secret. They are doing this openly. This is more an offensive of capital at the global level and that capital is creating a social conflict that is going to explode,” he predicted.

However, the union spokesman admitted that the work will be uphill, especially because many of the private sector employees are unaware of their rights as workers and how this new labor law affects them.

To this end, the leader said public campaigns have to be carried out that use as a slogan that the only way to guarantee the rights acquired by workers is through organization. Also, Pedraza Leduc stressed the importance of highlighting constitutional rights so people learn them.

“In the disinformation of these laws, you are being told what you lose and you are presented with a state of reduced rights. However, there is a higher rule of law, which is given by the Constitution, which is union organization to negotiate work conditions and improve wages. So, what the Constitution offers, they hide it because they do not want to show it. Workers go to an employment fair, employers are offering jobs under particular conditions that is the minimum and there is no union there, with a kiosk, announcing the rights of workers, which is the law, and that is what has to change,” he said.

The leader explained that once this message is disseminated, a challenge to the law will be considered in court based on the rights, which force employees to resign, rights that under the Constitution of Puerto Rico are inalienable concepts and cannot be altered by any law.

Pedraza Leduc advanced a strong offensive by the union sector to stop the implementation of this law, which he envisaged could impoverish workers.

“We need an offensive of different trade unions supporting each other because they [the government] have a lot of power and a lot of strength. On the other hand, we argue that unions must be transformed. We have been emphasizing how all this has to do with the main problem of Puerto Rico, which is the Promesa law, which is nothing more than reminding us we are not in charge in our country, “he said.

The leader speculated that this offensive will have one of two consequences. The first could be the uprising of the marginalized sector, but on the other hand, collective thinking could go the “right” and give way to fascist systems of government.

“That’s where the subject of individualization comes in. Because I no longer have the right to education, now I have an opportunity to educate myself. If I take advantage of it I am successful, but if I waste it then I am a loser,” lamented the leader who has worked with unions for more than 40 years.


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