Puerto Rico: teachers to strike over pensions

Scores of Puerto Rican teachers briefly occupied the Senate chamber in San Juan on Dec. 19 to protest legislation proposed by Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to change the retirement and pension system for the island’s teachers. After scuffling with Capitol building employees, the chanting teachers, many wearing yellow T-shirts, pushed their way into the chamber, forcing the 16 senators present to move to another room. Protests continued at the Capitol throughout the week, with teachers and police clashing outside the building on Dec. 21. Despite the actions, both chambers of the Legislative Assembly narrowly voted to pass the bill—the House of Representatives on Dec. 21 by a vote of 26 to 20 and the Senate on Dec. 23 by a vote of 14 to 13.

Under the new law, starting at the end of the school year pensions will be reduced from 75% of a teacher’s final salary to 65% and teachers’ contributions to the pension fund will increase from 9% to 10%. For newly hired teachers, retirement age will be increased to 62; currently teachers can retire at 55 after 30 years in the education system or at 60 after less than 30 years. Gov. García Padilla insisted that the changes were necessary because of threats from US credit rating agencies, principally Moody’s Corporation and Fitch Ratings Inc., to lower Puerto Rico’s general obligation bonds to junk status if alleged problems in its pension systems weren’t solved. Opponents of the changes charge that the Puerto Rican government is letting Wall Street dictate its policies.

The three teachers unions—the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the Teachers’ Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR) and Educamos ("We Educate")—have called for a 48-hour strike by the 41,973 active teachers starting on Jan. 14 in an effort to have the new law overturned or declared unconstitutional. (EFE, Dec. 19; Reuters, Decl. 24; Rebelión, Jan. 2; Global Post, Jan. 7, from EFE; Claridad, Puerto Rico, Jan. 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, January 12.