Highway Authority workers arrested amid Minillas strike
By John McPhaul
Ángel Pinto Rivera, president of the ProSolidarity-Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (ProSol-UTIER) Highway Authority Chapter announced on Thursday that the union decided to stop work to demand wage justice and restart the collective bargaining process that had been stopped since 2014 by the then-Special Law on Fiscal and Operational Sustainability of the Government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Law 66).
“We closed the building. Today the ‘Highway Flu’ arrived,” Pinto Rivera said in a written statement. “We join the call of hundreds of public servants who demand salary fairness, better working conditions and a dignified retirement.”
“Here at the Highway Authority, in December, there was a salary increase of $1,200 per month for project engineers,” he said. “Money did appear for them, but not for the other workers. We demand equal treatment. Today nobody enters the building here.”
Four protesters who sat at the entrance to the Highway and Transportation Authority (ACT by its Spanish initials) building in San Juan’s Minillas government center were removed and arrested by police officers.
“Don’t resist arrest or I’ll taser you. There are 50,000 volts, do not resist arrest,” the policemen told the four.
Before the arrest, the protesters were asked to remove vehicles that were blocking the taxiway, which they agreed to do.
During the intervention one of the police officers reportedly suffered a health mishap.
Lt. Col. Orlando Rivera said the intervention was conducted for alleged violations of Article 247 of the Penal Code.
“The article says that any person who interrupts the entrance to any government building where services are provided is committing a misdemeanor,” the police officer said. “Dialogue was held with these people so that they would agree to remove their people in order to allow entrance [to the building], they did not want to agree, so we had to act in accordance with that article.”
The four arrested were taken to the prosecutor’s office to determine the filing of charges for that crime or an additional one.
Pinto Rivera said the claim for salary justice is justified on the grounds that unionized workers perform the tasks that support the project engineer’s salary, the rise in the cost of living and more than a decade without a salary adjustment.
“While there are positions in the ACT that pay the minimum wage, federal contract employees began to be paid $15 an hour as of January 2022,” he said. “We at Highways collect from federal funds through a reimbursement process. We believe that we deserve equal treatment; it is fair.”
The union leader added that the ACT has promoted a series of early retirement offers since 2018, which has led to fewer employees, more work and the waste of public funds through the privatization of tasks.
“The Highway Authority has the funds to do justice [to its workers], but what happens is that the priorities are upside down,” Pinto Rivera said. “The money is being used to favor the privatizers and top management.”
He alleged that last December the union met with ACT management and the governor’s representatives and agreed to wait for a response on Jan. 14, 2022. However, now the ACT is asking for more time, until March 15, which the employees regard as a stalling tactic and a lack of respect.