• The San Juan Daily Star

Teachers organization ramps up demand on salaries

Puerto Rico Teachers Association President Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez

By John McPhaul

Puerto Rico Teachers Association (AMPR by its Spanish initials) President Víctor Manuel Bonilla Sánchez and the AMPR Union Local (AMPR-LS), representing the teachers and teaching staff of the Department of Education, issued an ultimatum to Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, the Legislature and the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico on Thursday so that salary justice is achieved for the teaching profession on the island.

“Today, we call on all teachers and educational workers in the Department of Education: this fight has not ended. It is time to unite under one voice and with a single claim: wage justice now,” Bonilla Sánchez said at a press conference. “The time for waiting is over. Our teachers’ patience ran out. … Enough of using the country’s bankruptcy as an excuse to delay the matter. Enough of offering us crumbs without a concrete solution that provides the teachers with a better quality of life. Enough of asking for sacrifices if the decision makers have shown us that they are not willing to make them themselves. Let the politicians and emissaries of bankruptcy bear this in mind: our 26,000 members are paying close attention and will never forget the mistreatment to which we have been subjected with the issue of salary, retirement, the teaching career and our working conditions. Enough already.”

Acting AMPR-LS Secretary General Sybaris Morales Paniagua highlighted that for years, the AMPR has made the claim and presented concrete proposals.

“Our most recent actions include a petition to the [oversight] Board, a request to Governor Pedro Pierluisi to sit at the table and collectively seek solutions to do salary justice to our educators, and our endorsement of House Bill 513, which proposes increasing educators’ base salary,” she said. “We have been vocal and proactive, taking this claim as part of our priority agenda in all forums. As exclusive representatives of the teaching profession, we reiterate our demand that the base salary of our teachers be raised to more than $3,500 a month.”

Morales Paniagua added that a protest is among the planned actions to have their claims addressed.

“Let’s go to the street,” she said. “We can go to the street at five in the afternoon. Of course, yes, because the class schedule is from 8 [a.m.] to 3 [p.m.] and in this country it has been shown that there can be militancy after five in the afternoon and there were weeks when Puerto Rico was paralyzed for hours.”

Under law, as exclusive representatives, the AMPR cannot call for work stoppages or strikes.

“The last increase in the base salary for teachers was in 2008, 13 years ago. Since then, teachers have seen well deserved raises given to other workers, while the teaching class has lagged behind as the lowest paid in the entire public service,” Morales Paniagua added. “The entire country can attest that even with the terrible salary and working conditions that we face, the teaching profession has always remained standing, working with the same tenacity as always because we are driven by our vocation, our love of service and the interest that we have for our students to keep going.”

Other planned demonstrations will take the form of protests on social networks and on school grounds outside of school hours, the officials said.

The AMPR president said he sent letters to the governor, the legislative leaders and the executive director of the oversight board, Natalie Jaresko, to meet and talk about the matter. A first meeting with Jaresko was planned for later on Thursday.

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