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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Teachers’ leaders to turn out for May Day rally; PREPA union declares 24-hour strike

Puerto Rico Teachers Association President Víctor M. Bonilla Sánchez

By The Star Staff

Hundreds of people will rally today in Hato Rey’s Golden Mile financial district to commemorate International Workers’ Day.

A coalition of union, community, political and social groups said they would leave at 10 a.m. from the Department of Labor and Human Resources and march toward the offices of the Financial Oversight and Management Board to protest against capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, attacks on the working class, community displacement and environmental crimes.

The march and rally also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the departure of the U.S. Navy from Vieques, parts of which were used for some 60 years by the U.S. military for live bombing practice.

Determined to safeguard the economic well being of retired teachers, who in recent years have seen reductions to their pensions and the elimination of many retirement benefits, the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, meanwhile, will participate in a rally starting at 8 a.m. today at the Minillas Government Center in Santurce.

“We know it’s a workday, so our active teachers won’t be able to attend, as well as those who are retired and work in some capacity for the government,” AMPR President Víctor M. Bonilla Sánchez said Sunday. “But we will be there on their behalf to demand better working conditions, and in the case of retired teachers to be returned the benefits that they have gradually had snatched from them.”

“Our retired teachers, workers who for years gave their best to advance Puerto Rican public education, today most of them live in poverty due to the reductions made in pensions and the elimination of many of the benefits they enjoyed in their retirement,” Bonilla Sánchez added. “For this reason, this May 1 we will raise our voices mainly to demand that payment of the medication bonus, the Christmas bonus, and the contribution to the medical plan be returned to them, that they receive an increase in their pensions, and the tax exemption contribution from $11,000 to $25,000.”

The teachers’ leader said the demand would also include that the government no longer increase the costs of essential services and the school lunch program, and that wage justice be done for all workers.

The Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym) declared a 24-hour strike to demand payment to their pension system, which faces insolvency this month.

They also will march to the financial district in Hato Rey in protest of the Labor Reform that they allege keeps thousands of working class employees in the private sector at six days of vacation and sick leave, cuts the probationary period and establishes the obligation to work 1,350 hours to obtain the Christmas bonus.

“We are hurt by each budget cut to the University of Puerto Rico and the closing of schools that reduce access to education for our working class,” reads a press release from UTIER. “It is the [oversight board] that stole our retirement systems, the culprits of the immoral contract given to LUMA and Genera.”

A call was extended to teachers, students, retirees and the unemployed to take to the streets in a mass-scale and forceful demonstration today to restart a broad and intense day of struggle for respect for workers’ rights.

Also on Sunday, Puerto Rico Police Bureau Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa said a special plan has been prepared to provide security on public thoroughfares and in the places where May Day demonstrations will be held.

“The marches and other similar activities are part of the [right to free] expression that is protected by the Puerto Rico and United States constitutions,” López Figueroa said in a written statement. “We will guarantee all their rights to express themselves freely within a framework of respect for the rights of others.”

The commissioner said the demonstrations announced by their organizers will be concentrated in three points, two of which will travel a predetermined route and one will remain in the selected space. These are: from the gates of the Río Piedras Campus of the University of Puerto Rico to the Golden Mile, from the Department of Labor and Human Resources in Hato Rey to the Seaborne building on Muñoz Rivera Avenue, and the Minillas Government Center Square in Santurce. In the latter, organizers said they would not march, but rather would remain in the area of the square.

The security plan contemplates the temporary closure of the avenues in which the demonstrations will be held and has strategies for avoiding or minimizing traffic congestion on the main streets of the capital city.

López Figueroa added that, for this reason, Highway Patrol agents will be at key intersections to direct traffic and ensure vehicular movement.

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