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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Unions slam gov’t, developers over imported labor for reconstruction projects

Edison Severino, director of public affairs in Puerto Rico for the Laborers International Union of North America

By The Star Staff

The Puerto Rican Association of Construction Unions criticized the government for supporting developers’ efforts to import foreign labor to work in Puerto Rico’s reconstruction rather than attracting and training a local workforce by offering fair wages and benefits.

Edison Severino, director of public affairs in Puerto Rico for the Laborers International Union of North America, described in a radio interview as “outrageous” for “millionaire developers and contractors” to resort to importing foreign labor instead of focusing on hiring a local workforce to work on projects following the allocation of over $50 billion in federal funds for the reconstruction of infrastructure.

Severino rejected assertions by developers that there is a shortage of local workers. He said the problem is the measly salaries offered to construction workers.

“It is unacceptable that the contractors’ Plan A is to bring workers from abroad to rebuild Puerto Rico,” Severino said. “Right now, not the slightest attempt has been made to come up with a plan to attract a local workforce to fill thousands of federally paid positions. Contractors say there is a shortage of local workers. But we all know the reality. In Puerto Rico there is no such shortage of workers. What exists is a shortage of jobs that pay wages that can cover the high cost of living.”

Charlie Nieves of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades said private developers oppose the imposition of contracts establishing that workers must be paid on a living wage scale.

“Millionaire contractors oppose Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), putting their private interests above the interests of the country,” Nieves said. “The PLA is an agreement that says workers on a construction project will have a living wage scale, supplemental benefits for themselves and their families, and establishes a robust training fund to train and integrate thousands of residents into the workforce.”

“PLAs have been used to successfully complete the largest and most complex construction projects in the United States,” he added. “In fact, it is President Biden’s declared policy to encourage the use of these agreements in public projects, due to their benefits for workers and taxpayers.”

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