Gov’t, teachers report progress in meeting at La Fortaleza
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia met on Thursday with the representatives of teachers’ organizations, the day after a mass demonstration, and committed himself to making the promised $1,000-a-month-pay raise for teachers permanent, reactivating teaching as a profession and creating a dialogue roundtable to seek a solution for the thorny pension issue.
“Once again [the governor] reiterates his commitment on a permanent raise in salary,” said Secretary of State Omar Marrero Díaz.
Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés lauded the progress made at the meeting.
“We can assure you that we are moving forward,” he said.
Marrero Díaz said Pierluisi will make the salary increase of $1,000 permanent by signing House Bill 513 to guarantee by law the base salary increase to $2,700, will sign Senate BIll 573 to reactivate teaching as a professional career, and establish the dialogue roundtable to seek alternatives for improving teachers’ pensions, made up of teachers’ representatives and four members of the government.
“All expenses included come from the General Fund and are guaranteed for one year,” Marrero Díaz said in response to questions from the press. “The entire payroll guarantee is in the budget.”
The first meeting of the dialogue roundtable will be next week.
While teacher’s representatives agreed that they made progress in the meeting, they made clear that the government shouldn’t rest on its laurels.
“Nobody should believe that the militancy of educators is going to diminish. All to the contrary,” said Lisa Fournier, president of the UNETE. “We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for our rights. The ball is in [the government’s] court. We are going to do what we have to do.”
For a second day in a row, teachers marched to La Fortaleza, this time from a gathering point in front of the Capitol, to make their demands heard.
The numbers were not close to the multitude that marched on Wednesday when the teachers were joined by firefighters and other public servants.
The Department of Education announced that 84% of teachers reported for work on Thursday, with 87% of teachers’ assistants and 91% of non teaching personnel in attendance.
The teachers’ representatives, who met with the press in a separate press conference from the officials, said they received an apology from Pierluisi and La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Noelia García Bardales for the statements the officials made about public employees.
“We told the governor and the chief of staff that they had made the statement that we felt offended by and there was an apology, which obviously they are not going to tell you about,” said Migdalia Santiago, president of the Educamos teachers union. “But since they gave it to us, we have to say that on behalf of the teachers, the three of us received an apology and we share it with you.”
“Apologies are for those who give them, not for those who receive them,” she added. “May they sleep soundly tonight.”
Santiago, along with Fournier and Puerto Rico Federation of Teachers President Mercedes Martínez Padilla, participated with Teachers Association President Victor Bonilla Sanchez in the meeting with the governor and various agency heads.
Other officials from several of the teachers’ organizations, Marrero Díaz, Retirement Systems Director Luis Collazo Rodríguez and the governor’s labor adviser, Yamil Ayala Cruz, also participated.