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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

UPR maintenance workers strike for better pay, medical coverage

Union maintenance workers at the University of Puerto Rico are demanding salary increases and improvements to their medical plan.

By The Star Staff

Maintenance workers represented by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Workers Union launched a strike Wednesday, closing off access to most UPR campuses such as the main campus in Río Piedras.

In a radio interview Tuesday, UPR President Luis Ferrao Delgado had urged workers against closing gates.

The union is demanding salary increases and improvements to their medical plan. The decision to launch the strike came after Ferrao Delgado requested time to review the most recent union proposal.

Currently, the UPR Workers Union has a registration of almost 1,000 workers. A third of those have more than 10 years of service but earn $1.25 below the federal and state minimum wage, which is $8.50 per hour.

“The UPR Workers Union has been more than reasonable in its proposals to the University, even offering alternatives to help the institution,” said David Muñoz Hernández, president of the union. “What the administration has done is deprive workers of the uniform payment, decrease the Christmas bonus, eliminate the tuition waiver and the payment of excess sick leave as workers earn $7.25 an hour, which is a miserable salary considering inflation and the high cost of living in Puerto Rico.”

As the union pointed out, the problem with the health care plan dates to 2021 when the UPR administration issued Certification 129, including union workers in the single medical plan, alleging that it represented savings. But there was no such savings, the union leader said.

The budget assigned to UPR for the health care plan is $58 million. With the union’s medical plan, there would be savings of $4 million that could be used to increase workers’ wages, Muñoz Hernández argued.

Taking into account the economic conditions of the university, the union proposed a mechanism to retain the workers and a salary adjustment to $9.50 in July of this year. In addition, the union proposed using savings from the employer’s contribution to the health insurance plan sponsored by the union and other adjustments to pay for the salary increases.

The union also proposed as a novel alternative the creation of university cooperative companies and putting out-of-use farms that the UPR owns under the care of workers in support of agricultural science programs.

Likewise, they proposed “super brigades” specialized in repairs and maintenance of electrical systems, roofs, refrigeration and plumbing, which would serve all the system’s units and operate with extra-university funds. Such an alternative would make it possible to pay compensation higher than the current one and that would be more competitive in the employment market.

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