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Vol. 72/No. 11      March 17, 2008

Teachers in Puerto Rico
strike for better conditions
NEW YORK—The Puerto Rican Federation of Teachers (FMPR) went on strike February 21. The teachers are demanding smaller classes, higher salaries, improved health and safety conditions in school buildings, adequate teaching materials, and an end to government efforts to privatize education.

The salary for a teacher in Puerto Rico starts at $19,200, and tops at $26,000—considerably less than what teachers in the United States, Puerto Rico’s colonial master, earn.

“The average class size has 38-40 students,” Iris Delutro, a member of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), said at a February 22 picket line in New York supporting the strike. The PSC is the faculty and staff union at the City University of New York. Delutro, who just returned from Puerto Rico, described bathrooms leaking sewage as an example of the poor conditions teachers face in schools there. She pointed to an extreme case of a dead dog being left in front of a school building for an entire day.

The striking teachers have won support in Puerto Rico and in the United States. Just 40 percent of enrolled students attended classes February 26, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

This is the first teachers’ strike since 1993. The teachers had worked two-and-a-half years without a contract. A Puerto Rican law forbidding the disruption of the public school system means that any strike by teachers is illegal.

The Puerto Rican government decertified the 42,000-member union in January, after a strike authorization in November. An appellate court upheld the decertification February 22.

The U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has come out against the strike. According to the New York Daily News, SEIU president Dennis Rivera struck a deal with Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo last year to decertify the FMPR and replace it with a new organization, the Union of Puerto Rican Teachers. The new union is a subsidiary of the organization that represents supervisors and principals, the Puerto Rican Teachers Association, which is affiliated with the SEIU. Both Rivera and Acevedo deny any such deal.

Meanwhile, more than 60 people turned out for a February 22 solidarity picket in front of the office of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration in New York, chanting “Puerto Rican teachers, we are with you!”

“Every worker has the right to organize,” said Nicos Apostolakis, a math professor at Bronx Community College and member of the PSC.  
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