Puerto Rico: teachers vote on union

As of Oct. 7 Puerto Rico’s teachers had been voting for a week on whether the Puerto Rican Teachers Union (SPM) should represent them. The island’s 40,000 teachers were previously represented by the 42-year-old Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), but the Labor Relations Commission excluded the FMPR from running in the new election, even though 12,000 teachers had already endorsed the union as their bargaining agent. Earlier this year Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila’s administration withdrew the union’s certification because of its refusal to accept a ban on strikes by public employees in Law 45. The FMPR mounted a militant 10-day strike in late February and early March over wages, classroom size and health issues, winning several key demands.

The FMPR called on its supporters to vote against SPM representation. FMPR president Rafael Feliciano said on Oct. 7 that the union’s polls showed the “no” vote winning broadly in the Morovis, Manati, Juana Diaz, Florida, Santa Isabel, Villalba and Jayuya school districts; he said the “no” was narrowly ahead in Coamo, Ciales, Barceloneta and Orocovis districts and tied in Adjuntas. SPM director Aida Diaz called Feliciano a “Pinocchio.” The voting is to continue until Oct. 16; 34,285 teachers are eligible to cast their ballots in 89 voting places.

The SPM is affiliated with the Teachers’ Association (AM) and the US-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU). In an Oct. 6 press conference in New York, activists from the local FMPR Support Committee charged that the SEIU and its vice president, Dennis Rivera, had made an alliance with Gov. Acevedo Vila and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) to raid the FMPR. According to the Puerto Rican daily Primera Hora, SEIU leaders have said winning over the Puerto Rico teachers is part of a strategy to expand the SEIU into the rest of Latin America. (Primera Hora, Oct. 6, 8, 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 12, 2008

See our last post on the struggle in Puerto Rico.