Union: Education chief is in violation of collective bargaining agreement amid schools closure

By John McPhaul

Grichelle Toledo Correa, secretary general of the Local Union of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, accused designated Education Secretary Elba Aponte Santos on Tuesday of violating the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in light of the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

“Article LXIV of the Agreement obliges the Department and the Union to adopt the necessary or convenient measures and precautions to avoid work accidents and maintain the best hygienic conditions in the facilities where the members of the Appropriate Unit work,” Toledo Correa said. “Likewise, section 23.04 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement expressly provides that in those cases in which the teaching process is interrupted due to an epidemic, the Department of Education and the members of the appropriate unit are required to suspend work.”

The union leader said Health Secretary Carlos Mellado López announced last Thursday that due to the rise in coronavirus infections that raised the risk level to critical for three consecutive days, under the Health Department’s public health emergency protocol in-person classes were canceled at all island schools.

“No school should be operating, nor should the staff members of the Appropriate Unit be summoned to appear in person at the schools,” Toledo Correa said. “Doing so violates not only the reopening protocol, but also the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and it is contrary to the statements of the governor, Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, who established the closure of schools.”

Toledo Correa added that “requiring the members of the Appropriate Unit to appear at the school campuses to offer the courses when the students are [in] remote [attendance] goes against the aforementioned legal provisions, since it puts the health of the students and members of the Appropriate Unit at risk and compromises the hygienic conditions of the facilities.”

“Furthermore, it puts at risk not only each of the members of the Appropriate Unit and other appropriate units that work in the schools, but also their families, which has a multiplier effect and would promote the spread of COVID,” she said.

Toledo Correa, who is a teacher in the public system, pointed out that the foregoing is not only consistent with the provisions of the CBA to preserve the health and safety of union members, but is also in accordance with the Distance Work Act of the Government of Puerto Rico, Law No. 36 of April 9, 2020, and other applicable regulations and memoranda issued by the island government and especially with Health Department protocol for the reopening of schools.

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