Labor unions join to demand fiscal board’s exit from PR

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The STAR

Around 17 organizations affiliated with the Puerto Rico Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish initials) hit the road on Tuesday to carry out a plan of struggle against the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB) and to challenge the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) five years after the law was established.

During a press conference held at the entrance of the World Plaza Building, which houses the oversight board’s headquarters, CPT President Emilio Nieves Torres said that after years of the island facing austerity measures and collective complaints, the plan will be to meet with different collectives, report about the effects of the board’s decisions on the island’s economic development and join forces in mass actions to demand its departure from the island.

“We have to unite as a country and elevate our resistance to fight and gather as one voice to demand that the U.S. Congress free us from the PROMESA Act and the board’s imposition in order to move toward a fair process that allows the people to deal with the island’s bankruptcy, protect our essential services and push a local and sustainable economic development plan,” Nieves Torres said. “We understand we can’t do this by ourselves.”

The CPT president added that the plan comes on the heels of the release of a Center for a New Economy report stating that the oversight board’s implementation has cost $1.5 billion and has yet to restructure two-thirds of the island’s hedge fund debts after five years.

“We can’t wait five or 10 more years because the road under PROMESA and the FOMB would be more poverty and more emigration,” he said. “We have to take the board out, create a structure or a social summit that incorporates every social, political, economic and union sector, and design a development plan that sustains our economy and prevents future fiscal crises.”

Authentic Independent Union (UIA by its Spanish initials) President Luis de Jesús said meanwhile that the people cannot allow either the oversight board or Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to privatize another public entity such as the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) because “water is an essential service.”

“We cannot allow the government to privatize our water, our electric power, our education system, and our [public] safety [services] because it means we have to pay for every service, instead of the government fulfilling its obligation to provide these services as a principle of social justice,” he said.

Independent Brotherhood of Telephone Employees President Telizia Dolz, who represents both technicians and professional workers at the telecommunications company Claro, said that “among 600,000 workers from the private sector, who face violations in silence, fight against the board’s efforts to lobby for legislation that takes away more labor rights.”

Dolz repudiated the oversight board’s efforts to lobby against House Bill 3, a measure that incorporates amendments penned by Citizens Victory Movement Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén to recover worker rights that were overruled after the implementation of Act 4-2017, also known as the current Labor Reform.

“We also have to push for the workers’ minimum wage to increase, in a staggered manner, to $15 per hour,” she said. “No more crumbs for workers.”

The unions also aim to conduct permanent education campaigns to replace the oversight board, organize mass demonstrations against the board’s debt adjustment plan and push for legislation to stop providing $60 million in annual funding to the board’s executive director, Natalie Jaresko, and its other members, and to obligate the government to challenge PROMESA in the Title III bankruptcy court.

In response to a STAR request for comment from the oversight board regarding CPT’s proposed actions, an official statement from the board said the entity has made “significant progress” in restructuring the island’s debt to “sustainable levels” and helped to balance the government’s budget “after years of overspending.”

The statement went on to say that the board has also fulfilled the mandate “toward ending Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy possibly as soon as this calendar year.”

“Under PROMESA, the Oversight Board will terminate when Puerto Rico has adequate access to credit markets to meet the borrowing needs of the government and balance its budget for at least four consecutive years,” the oversight board said. “A fiscally stable Puerto Rico is essential for the economy to grow and for the prosperity of the people of Puerto Rico.”

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