Puerto Rico: one-day teachers’ strike shuts down schools

A one-day strike by Puerto Rican teachers over budget issues and the need for additional teachers shut down about 90% of the island’s 1,500 public schools on Aug. 26, according to the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR). The walkout was the largest teachers’ strike since early 2008, when the FMPR led a militant 10-day strike. Interim education secretary Jesús Rivera Chávez called the Aug. 26 strike’s effect “devastating.”

The walkout was called by three unions: the FMPR, the largest, with 42,000 members; the smaller Teachers Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR); and the new National Union of Educators and Education Workers (UNETE). The FMPR and UNETE also led thousands of teachers in a march from San Juan’s Colón Plaza past the Capitol building to La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence.

The teachers charged that the government had failed to fill 1,000 vacancies for the new school year; they said this hurts the students and gives extra work to the teachers, who are also facing a shortage of textbooks and photocopies. The authorities said that they had now filled all but 330 posts, and Education Secretary Rivera Chávez blamed the problem in part on a lack of qualified teachers.

Some 30,000 teachers observed the strike while 13,000 reported for work, according to the government. Union leaders said that parents had generally kept their children at home. “This strike brought about reflection on the part of each family,” UNETE’s Emilio Nieves remarked, “and they came to the conclusion that they should be in solidarity with the teachers.” Rafael Feliciano of the FMPR said the teachers were planning to hold an assembly in September “if the government continues with the same attitude” and would decide whether to hold more job actions. (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Aug. 26 from AP; Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Aug. 26)

The teachers’ strike follows a number of strikes and protests in the past year over austerity measures imposed by Gov. Luis Fortuño in response to the US economic crisis [see Update #1041].

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 29.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.