Citing virus outbreaks in gov’t agencies, unions call for stricter safety protocols

By John McPhaul

The General Workers Union (UGT by its Spanish initials) warned Monday about COVID-19 outbreaks in various government agencies and Medical Center hospitals, urging the central government to take the necessary measures while desisting from the flawed policy of leaving the adoption of health and safety protocols, as well as their implementation, to the heads of the agencies.

“The uncontrollable number of outbreaks that have arisen in [Puerto Rico] make it necessary to desist from the current policy that leaves self-regulation of agencies and companies in the hands of officials and businessmen without much health knowledge,” said José Rodríguez, UGT secretary of health and safety. “We have information on outbreaks in the Medical Center hospitals where there are resident doctors, nurses, staff and security guards among others who have tested positive for COVID. There are different agencies with outbreaks, the Treasury, the Minillas Building, and Correction, among others. The new reality that we are experiencing makes it necessary for health experts to define the necessary protocols and establish clear guidelines to enforce them uniformly. The above, together with adequate supervision by the Department of Health that guarantees strict compliance, as well as the adoption of the measures recommended by the Health Task Force, will allow us to advance in the prevention, detection and follow-up of COVID-19 cases.”

Rodríguez pointed out that the recommendation made by the union, given the disorganization that prevails in the various public agencies, should also be applied to all companies and businesses that intend to continue operating on the island.

The UGT added that to the extent that the various agencies do not comply with a strict safety protocol and the necessary measures are not taken to guarantee the health and safety of the workers they represent, they will be exposing their lives and those of their associates working in unsafe places and lacking the equipment and materials to do so in complete safety.

“It does not make any sense, nor does it really contribute to the country’s economy and well being, to continue working without the minimum guarantees of health and safety, leading to infection and contagion with the deadly virus,” insisted UGT Secretary Treasurer Mirnalee Lamboy. “Likewise, the government must guarantee the best conditions so that public servants can continue to provide the essential services that citizens demand without exposing their lives when fulfilling their work obligations.”

Mayra Rivera Cordero, organizational secretary of the UGT, pointed out that “if the necessary measures are not taken at this time, we are exposed to the fact that everything we have achieved so far will be lost and our health system will collapse, with all the negative consequences that such a situation entails.”

Meanwhile, Ángel Pinto, president of the PROSOL-UTIER Highways and Transportation Authority union chapter, asked that the Minillas Government Center in Santurce be closed after a fourth positive case of COVID-19 in the building was confirmed.

“This building must be closed to disinfect it thoroughly. Closing [only] the floor where the employee tested positive does not solve anything,” Pinto said. “For weeks we have been saying it, and just on Saturday we found out about a fourth positive case in Minillas. Closing and cleaning only the floor where the positive case occurred does not prevent the virus from continuing to spread in the building, since the person who tested positive could have been in other floors and offices in Minillas.”

Pinto added that the Highways and Transportation Authority administration is not complying with the protocols established in the executive order since they force employees to return to work even without knowing their COVID-19 test results or after having tested positive.

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