Puerto Rico: teachers start walk-out

After 27 months of negotiations and despite official efforts to decertify their union, tens of thousands of Puerto Rican public school teachers went on strike on Feb. 21. Public employees are barred from striking under Puerto Rican law, and the government of Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila announced that it would keep schools open. Striking teachers blocked school doors and in some cases chained them shut. Police agents beat a teacher with clubs at the entrance to the Gabriela Mistral school in San Juan on Feb. 21 and threw her to the ground. At least 12 teachers were arrested across the island on the first day.

Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde said 71% of the system’s 41,046 teachers went to their classes at the 1,523 schools on Feb. 21, although he said just 31% of the 523,399 students were in attendance. But the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the island’s largest union, insisted that 26,000 teachers observed the strike the first two days and 8,500 participated in picket lines. According to the union, 90% of the students stayed home and 85% of the schools were completely paralyzed.

With a basic annual salary of $19,200, the teachers are demanding a doubling of their pay over the next eight years, a maximum class size of 15 and improvements in health conditions at schools. The Education Department and the FMPR have agreed on 26 articles in a contract; they disagree on 20 articles and have yet to negotiate 16 more. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Feb. 22 from AP; Terra, Spain, Feb. 21 from EFE; El Sentinel, Orlando, FL, Feb. 22 from EFE; Bandera Roja, Puerto Rico, Feb. 23)

Unconfirmed rumors are circulating that the US-based Change to Win labor federation has offered Gov. Acevedo’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) $3 to 4 million to guarantee the liquidation of the FMPR, which the US unions hope to replace. (ED-LP, Feb. 23 from correspondent, print edition only)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 25

See our last post on Puerto Rico.