Underpaid and dissed, Puerto Rico’s teachers may walk out in defiance of anti-strike ban
New York Teacher
Feb 14, 2008 1:07 PM
After two years of failed negotiations with their Department of Education employers, Puerto Rico’s 32,000 public school teachers in the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), the commonwealth’s largest union representing the bulk of the island’s 43,000 pedagogues, are mulling a strike. The issues: higher wages — the starting salary is $18,000 per year and teachers want an 18 percent raise — and better working conditions. Teachers also want decision-making power on class size and class schedules as well as repairs to much-neglected school buildings.
In Ponce some 600 FMPR members blocked streets in a recent pro-strike demonstration, while more than 500 teachers picketed in front of school board offices in Caguas. A strike could shut down some 1,400 public schools.
Strikes by public employees are illegal in Puerto Rico, and teachers and others face firing if they strike. The island’s government labor relations board decertified the Teachers’ Federation last month after some of its members authorized a walkout. The FMPR filed papers in U.S. federal district court in San Juan seeking to have the anti-strike law declared unconstitutional.
The starting base salary for a teacher in Puerto Rico is lower than any U.S. state, while the cost of living is generally higher. One new hire, a chemistry teacher, told the Associated Press: “If I am going to quit in three or four years because I’m not able to save anything, it doesn’t make a difference if they kick me out now.”
The strike could affect the mainland as well, as stranded students are expected to come to northern cities, including New York and Orlando, Fla., with sizeable Puerto Rican populations.
The fight is muddied because the current leadership of FMPR broke away from the AFT and the AFL-CIO last year, and 18 presidents of Puerto Rican unions affiliated with both the AFL-CIO and the rival union federation Change to Win denounced the FMPR’s strike plans in mid-January. They said the FMPR’s actions would hurt 100,000 public employees if the courts overturn the law, since their union recognition depends on it.
Plus, the Service Employees International Union, part of Change to Win, is seeking to replace the FMPR as the teachers’ bargaining agent. Heading the effort is SEIU leader Dennis Rivera.
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 27
Associated Press, Jan. 30, 31
Orlando Sentinel, Feb. 1