• The Star Staff

Truck drivers demand safer working conditions for San Juan employees amid pandemic

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Personal protective equipment, vehicle sanitization, physical distancing, and other protective actions.

These were some of the demands made by public truck drivers Tuesday in front of San Juan’s Public Works Operations Center as they reported anomalies occurring in the city as employees are confronting issues at their workplaces due to a lack of protocol for preventing exposure to the coronavirus.

Puerto Rico Truckers Coalition Coordinator Carlos Rodríguez said that as the capital city’s public workers are going back to work in person, maintenance brigade employees have raised flags as dump trucks and waste collection trucks have yet to be disinfected, exposing them to rat urine and feces, while many had to obtain sanitizing equipment and protective gear with their own income. However, in fear of retaliation, they decided to leave it to Rodríguez to “raise the red flags.”

“There was an employee who worked at [Hiram] Bithorn [Stadium] who collapsed; his companions had to pick him up from the floor and they drove him to a hospital. He was diagnosed positive for COVID-19,” Rodríguez said. “The employee who collapsed seems to not be in danger, but his companions kept working even though they were supposed to be in quarantine for 14 days or until they get a negative result. They’ll keep spreading the disease, but they keep going because they are intimidated and are scared of losing their jobs.”

He also called on San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto to provide public workers with proper disinfection training and hazardous material suits. Rodríguez said the city’s public workers have not been trained appropriately and are at risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We’re keeping an eye on them and reporting such ordeals. We ask the mayor to comply and provide her workers with safer working conditions. We don’t think we’re demanding something extravagant or over the top; we request what’s fair for these employees, many of whom are heads of households,” Rodríguez said. “Even if she lost in the primary elections, similar to what happened with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, who lost and has thrown the country’s issues into oblivion, we hope the mayor doesn’t climb onto that bandwagon; if she wants to go out with style and grace, she should address her workers’ concerns.”

As for the truck drivers running point for city employees, Rodríguez said that even though the Puerto Rican Workers Union is the one that is supposed to ensure the workers’ welfare, he told the Star that “they are more focused on working on the political campaign in support of the Citizen Victory Movement.”

As he is also a spokesman for the Capital Workers Union, Rodríguez said he felt obliged to make San Juan employees’ complaints known since, he said, their concerns so far have “fallen on deaf ears.”

“Things have changed, and we must find a way to live with the COVID-19 surrounding us,” he said. “But we must provide the tools and strategies to prevent cases from going up. It’s hard, but we have to protect each other.”

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