Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Puerto Rico’

A Sad And Shameful Day For Puerto Rico

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Isaiah J. Poole“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel infamously said when he was President Obama’s White House chief of staff. So it is with the legislation that President Obama signs into law Thursday that offers Puerto Rico a process for managing its crushing debt.

This bill is behing heralded as a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation to solve a serious crisis, in this case the default by Puerto Rico on more than $1 billion of general obligation bonds on July 1. The island’s government has already missed payment deadlines on other bonds.

But for Julio López Varona, a leader at Make the Road Connecticut and a member of Hedge Clippers, a coalition of grass roots organizations dedicated to exposing the damage to working people interests done by hedge funds, the legislation solidifies what he calls an “experiment in extreme capitalism” – one that is already having extreme consequences on the people who live on the island.

The legislation – which has the acronym PROMESA, Spanish for “promise” – imposes on the island’s approximately 3.5 million residents a financial control board that will determine how the government spends its money and how businesses on the island are regulated. That control board would have the power to slash government spending in order to ensure that Wall Street investors who purchased Puerto Rico bonds would be paid.

It also allows the federal minimum wage on the island to be lowered to $4.25 an hour for workers 24 and under. Plus, businesses in Puerto Rico would not have to comply with regulations that would increase the number of workers eligible for overtime pay that will go into effect December 1. That means workers earning as little as $24,000 a year could be asked to work 50, 60, 70 hours or more a week without earning an extra dime in pay.

The legislation sends an unmistakable message: If you are a financially struggling Puerto Rican – and that is most of the island’s residents – you will be expected to sacrifice more: fewer government services, lower wages and higher taxes. For the wealthy, it says, in so many words, “We got your back.”

López Varona has seen the toll that Puerto Rico’s financial troubles have had first hand. His family lives on the island, and he was just there a few weeks ago.

One of the first things López Varona noticed in San Juan, he said, is that “there’s not a lot of traffic.” Usually, San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is a highly congested mix of island residents, government workers and tourists. But, he said, “there has been such a huge migration of people that you literally have space on the street to drive. That’s a little thing, but it shows how bad things are.”

But a lack of traffic is the least of the island’s problems. This past school year 100 schools have had to close, special needs teachers have gone without pay for months and hospitals have run out of electricity, López Varona said. The government has stopped funding pensions for government employees. The unemployment rate on the island is above 11 percent. “There is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico,” he said.

But at the same time as middle class residents with the ability to move out of the island are doing so, CNN Money reported last year that millionaires are moving in – 250 people with a net worth of $1 million or more have moved into the island since 2012, according to CNN Money. “Puerto Rico is trying to lure wealth from the mainland U.S. with generous tax exemptions or cuts on corporate taxes, personal income, capital gains and other sources of profit,” the site says, adding that “some say the tax exemptions could make Puerto Rico the next Singapore – an extremely wealthy tax haven.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supported this legislation, calling it “imperfect” but nonetheless joining a number of House and Senate Democrats who felt pressured by the July 1 default deadline to agree to many of the demands of conservative Republicans and Wall Street lobbyists.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was among the Democrats who voted against the bill, calling it on the Senate floor “legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico.”

The legislation also fits into a long and foul pattern of conservative and Wall Street interests locking arms in disregard of the needs and interests of citizens of municipalities that got into financial trouble often because of the conditions created by the conservatives who now use those conditions to strip people of their self-determination. The residents of the District of Columbia experienced this in the 1990s; the residents of Flint, Michigan saw this more recently with disastrous results. Few people believe it is coincidence that this happens most often, and with the most ferocity, to communities of color.

Puerto Rico would be in different financial shape if there was real, holistic economic development on the island. Instead, there was a conservative game of top-end tax breaks to lure businesses – in the early 2000s, it was notably pharmaceutical companies – who stayed a few years for the tax breaks and then left when they found an even better tax deal elsewhere. Add an obsession with giving tax breaks to the wealthy with the addictive drug of tax-free Wall Street debt, mix in the mysterious change that stripped from Puerto Rico the ability to declare a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and you get the shame we see today – working-class American citizens stripped of economic opportunity, democratic rights and basic dignity, and told they have to bear with the “imperfect” while the fat cats finish their feasting. At least for them, this crisis has not been a waste at all.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

Puerto Rico Reinstates Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Members of the UAW and Puerto Rico’s Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU)/AFSCME Council 95 and other public employees celebrated May 17 when Gov. Luis Fortuño signed into law a bill reinstating collective bargaining for public employees.

Unlike legislatures in states like Wisconsin and Ohio, which are trying to take away workers’ rights, Puerto Rico’s House and the Senate passed this bill unanimously.

Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees.

Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees.

Says SPU President Annette González:

This law is very important for workers since in essence it includes two clauses that allow us to attain two fundamental goals: Restore the acquired rights through the restitution of collective bargaining contracts [and] negotiate the economic aspects that will do justice to workers and their families.

The law ends a policy imposed in March 2009 when the administration enacted a fiscal emergency law that mandated a two-year freeze on the economic clauses of all collective bargaining agreements. The new law extends the non-economic clauses of the contracts until 2013 and allows workers to negotiate for salaries, benefits, bonuses and other economic aspects.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on May 18, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

Puerto Rico's working families to appeal Governor's massive layoffs

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasIn July 2008, Republican Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño enacted Law 7 in a two-day period. He then invoked the law in 2009, effectively firing 28,000 employees across all sectors of public services–and all without demonstrating any alternative solutions or proving financial necessity.

As a direct result of Law 7, thousands of working people who provide essential services in education, healthcare, the environment, and social services in Puerto Rico have lost their livelihoods, while the Commonwealth citizens have endured a dramatic loss of essential services.

Today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (located here in Boston, MA), 28,000 working families throughout Puerto Rico represented by lead plaintiffs from the Central Federation of Workers (UFCW), the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the Service Employees International Union SPT 1996 (SEIU) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) will hear opening arguments.

This article was originally published on SEIU.org.

For more information regarding this case, you can contact Meghan Finegan at Meghan.Finegan@seiu.org.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.


Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog