Unions call on candidates to sign proposal for a better Puerto Rico

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @PCorreaHenry

Special to The Star

Seventeen labor unions teamed up in front of State Elections Commission headquarters in Hato Rey on Thursday and requested that every political candidate put their name on a proposal to work for a better Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish initials) President Emilio Nieves said the proposal focuses specifically on concrete measures to address issues such as health, education, the public retirement system, workers’ rights, sustainable development, effective civil participation, corruption, public debt, women’s rights, human rights and the island’s political status. Nieves said that through every union representative, what the proposal calls for is that every candidate speak up on the aforementioned concerns and commit to work effectively on those matters starting in January 2021.

“In each of these areas, we present alternatives that are perfectly viable and whose consideration and approval will allow us to live in a more just society, will lay the foundations for a true social transformation, and will allow each Puerto Rican family a higher standard of living,” the CPT president said, emphasizing that the 17 syndicates that approved the proposal represent “a total of 200,000 workers who expect sensitivity toward their living and working conditions from future elected officials.”

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Teachers Federation President Mercedes Martínez Padilla said no candidate from the Popular Democratic Party, the New Progressive Party or the Dignity Project had replied regarding the proposal, much less signed their name to it. However, she added, every candidate from both the Citizen Victory Movement and the Puerto Rican Independence Party, independent gubernatorial candidate Eliezer Molina and independent senator at-large candidate José Vargas Vidot have signed the proposal.

She added that she urges citizens to “vote consciously and outside of [party] colors.”

“Moreover, the candidates who aspire now to govern and legislate know what the people deserve. They know what workers deserve. We are not responsible for the public debt, we are not corrupt, nor did we lead the country to the precipice it is on. Therefore, it is not up to us to pay for it,” Martínez Padilla said. “Part of the proposal is to commit to legislating the bills that were left on the table [that are] focused on a dignified retirement system that guarantees a pension for all public employees. If they don’t sign the proposal, it says a lot about their work [going forward].”

Meanwhile, Puerto Rican University Professors Association President Ángel Rodríguez called the recent determination by the Financial Oversight and Management Board to cut the public workforce in order to implement Laws 80, 81 and 82 to preserve the retirement system for civil servants “a crude, insensitive, inhuman and cowardly attempt to blackmail the people of Puerto Rico into choosing to have a salary or to have retirement money.”

“It is up to local politicians to develop a backbone that allows them to stand tall in front of the oversight board and say that the interests of the poor, working, subordinate and marginalized people have to be above a debt that is not ours,” Rodríguez said.

When the Star asked the union leaders if they will advocate for the approval of HB 2572, which addresses the University of Puerto Rico’s retirement system, and HB 2434, the Dignified Retirement Act, given that unions have endorsed and lobbied for both bills as being in compliance with the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, both Rodríguez and Nieves said they will not keep lobbying for the bills, but instead will occupy the streets until the Legislative Assembly passes them.

“Both retirees and workers must keep an eye on every government proposal, because the majority of them end up being mere promises,” Nieves said. “They must assume their commitment to the proposal that we are presenting today; that’s the government program they should follow.”

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