SAN JUAN – Puerto Rican unions called a general strike for Oct. 15 in response to the dismissal of 17,000 public employees.
The leader of the 23,000-member UGT union, Juan Eliza, told Efe Monday that organized labor is currently readying what he said could be “the most massive movement in the history” of Puerto Rico.
“The governor (Luis Fortuño) came to privatize government jobs,” Eliza said, rejecting the administration’s claims that the number of public employees in Puerto Rico – 180,000 – is out of line.
“In comparison with U.S. states of a similar size, the number of public employees is similar,” Eliza said, adding that the strike call is firm and he doesn’t believe that Fortuño will rescind his decision.
Eliza also said that the 17,000 layoffs are just the first part of a more ambitious plan outlined by the administration, which he estimates will leave close to 30,000 public employees in the street.
The union leader said in that regard that the government has already announced it will eliminate 40 state agencies, which will consequently lead to many more layoffs.
Eliza said that the measure of firing 17,000 public employees will not solve the government deficit, calculated at $3.2 billion when Fortuño took power, but on the contrary will accelerate the government’s financial debt.
“There will be less revenue for the government and less money in circulation,” he warned, noting that the massive layoffs will hit an economy that is in its fourth year of recession.
For his part, Fortuño said Monday that the layoffs were the only alternative to avoid a shutdown of the government, as occurred in May 2006 with the administration of Anibal Acevedo Vila.
“The government would have shut down before Christmas,” Fortuño said, insisting that the measure was the only one possible to reduce a deficit estimated, even after the layoffs, at more than $800 million.
Fortuño, who confessed he had problems sleeping after backing the measure, said that the dismissals have created opposition even within his own pro-statehood New Progressive Party.
The chairman of the Board of Reorganization and Fiscal Stabilization, Carlos Garcia, announced last Friday the dismissal of 16,970 public employees, which he himself said will raise Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate to 17 percent.
The Education Department will be the hardest hit by the measure with 7,249 layoffs, followed by Transportation and Public Works with 1,522, and the Economic Development Administration with 681.
The strike called for Oct. 15 is supported by virtually all of organized labor in Puerto Rico. EFE