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US Labor Imperialism-Weingarten's AFT Has Displaced Puerto Rican FMPR With Boss's Union
Beneath the crisis in Puerto Rico, US pro-imperialist unions like the SEIU and AFT have used millions of dollars of union dues to overthrow indigenous Puerto Rican unions and replace them with pro-corporate, pro-imperialist unions that have colluded with the privatizers that now run the island. AFT president Randi Weingarten has funded a union busting campaign to overturn the teachers FMPR with a pro-charter franchise in Puerto Rico. Both the AFT and SEIU have a long record of union busting and colluding with US and Puerto Rican capitalists and US bosses to prevent the Puerto Rico workers from running their own unions. The SEIU International even tried to prevent delegates to their convention which was held on the island from reading flyers that were being distributed by the FMPR.
Former SEIU President Andy Stern also was sent to Puerto Rico by former SEIU president John Sweeney who later became president of the AFL-CIO to connive with the governor to privatize the Puerto Rican healthcare system and turn it over to companies like Humana. The deal was that these workers would then be pushed into the SEIU in their normal business deals with the bosses and capitalists.
The role of US labor imperialism has played a pernicious and reactionary role on the workers and their lives in Puerto Rico.
US Labor Imperialism-Weingarten's AFT Has Displaced Indigenous FMPR With Support Of US Capitalists And Puerto Rican US Lackeys
We saw Puerto Rico's struggle to survive
November 20, 2017
The federal government in Washington and local government agencies in Puerto Rico are eager to project the appearance of the island returning to a pre-Hurricane Maria status quo. But millions of Puerto Ricans know better. SocialistWorker.org contributors Monique Dols and Lance Selfa traveled to Puerto Rico in late October to bring support and solidarity, and meet with labor and social movement activists. In this report, they describe two faces to Puerto Rico's "new reality"--a society whose major institutions have failed it, but whose people are trying to reknit the social fabric from below.
Residents await emergency supplies in Utuado, Puerto Rico (Master Sgt. Joshua DeMotts | Wikimedia Commons)
ALMOST TWO months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the island is adjusting to a new reality.
As one activist we met put it, Hurricane Maria ripped the leaves off the trees--and also ripped away the thin veil that barely concealed widespread poverty and immiseration.
The first few weeks after the storm were a period in which people worked just to ensure the safety of their families, comrades and loved ones, using alternative methods of communication to reach people in different areas. With very little support from the government, people pooled their resources to clean out their homes and try to salvage what was salvageable.
As of mid-November, about two-thirds of the island's residents remained without electricity. Although authorities are promising to restore power to 95 percent of residents by mid-December, attempts to repair the electrical grid have already run into many problems and breakdowns.
As a result, many people must rely on power generators for electricity, polluting the air with sound and exhaust. Without reliable electricity, people struggle to preserve and cook food, clean their clothing and keep desperately needed medicine such as insulin.
While 75 percent of the island reportedly had running water as this article was being written, people still line up for hours for bottled water--because it's suspected that water from the tap isn't safe to drink in the wake of the storm. In the Rio Piedras area of San Juan, the tap water ran blue as it flowed from faucets, according to residents.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
New Yorkers can hear from Monique Dols and others who have traveled to Puerto Rico at a forum on From Devastation to Solidarity: Building a Movement that Stands With Puerto Rico. Wednesday, November 29, 6:30 p.m., City College of New York, North Academic Building (NAC) Ballroom, 160 Convent Ave.
Shortages of certain products roll through at different moments, creating spikes in prices. For example, right before we arrived, there was a shortage of mosquito repellant, which is now a necessity on the island.
The informal death toll is now around 900, but is likely more since communication is still spotty, reporting is low, and the medical system is still in a state of crisis.
Yet despite this latter crisis, the U.S. Navy medical ship, the USS Comfort--which, when we were there, was anchored in San Juan's port where cruise ships usually dock--is woefully underserving the sick people of Puerto Rico.
With doctors at Centro Médico in San Juan, the main hospital for the island, still operating by flashlight at times, many people wanted to know what you had to do to get admitted to the USS Comfort. The authorities had set up a couple of tents on the promenade next to the dock, and we saw dozens of people--some with walkers or oxygen tanks--lining up in the sweltering heat, presumably seeking treatment.
The common understanding on the island is that the local and federal governments have completely abandoned ordinary Puerto Ricans.
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THE SITUATION in Puerto Rico today is the result multiple disasters that compounded the consequences for residents.
First, there was the severity of the hurricane itself. "It was as if a 50- to 60-mile-wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw," Jeff Weber, a meteorologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, told Vox.
The hurricane affected those in charge of emergency response along with everyone else. Without means of communication and electricity and supplies of diesel cut off, they couldn't distribute the needed relief.
Then there are the failures of FEMA and the island government due to their political priorities.
FEMA initially distributed aid through the island's 78 municipalities. This led to posturing, with politicians using aid distribution as an opportunity for photo ops and favoritism, with supplies directed to their bases of electoral support.
To top it off, the FEMA relief packages were insultingly meager and inadequate. They included small quantities of water, as well as junk food and candy. "They just kept throwing Spam at us," an activist who works in the Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo in Mariana, a small barrio in Humacao on the east coast of the island, told us.
But even before these packages were distributed, FEMA infamously went from town to town distributing...forms for residents to fill out. The agency even urged people to file their claims online--when most of the island had no electricity or cell service!
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is also embroiled in a controversy on the island because for weeks after the hurricane, its "blue top" program--which is supposed to get tarps covering ruined roofs--has been woefully slow and bureaucratic.
Dozens of scandals lie right below the surface. Puerto Ricans know about them, but they haven't been widely reported in the U.S. press.
For example, several days after the hurricane struck officials in Toa Baja, a municipality west of San Juan on the north coast, decided to open floodgates in order to "prevent worse flooding."
The New York Times reported that people simply didn't listen to evacuation orders before the order was carried out. But one friend in San Juan told us a different story: the flood alarms didn't work.
In a local news segment, the official in charge admitted to, as our friend put it, "criminal negligence and federal fraud"--stating in the same breath that the alarm system wasn't functional and that it had been certified by the federal government as capable of alerting people to the arrival of a tsunami.
Similarly, the federal government continues to deny that Puerto Rico has suffered any problem related to leptospirosis, a treatable disease spread through contaminated water. Though there are dozens of cases confirmed by medical workers, they haven't been "officially" categorized as an outbreak or an epidemic.
It's the same with tallying the death toll from the hurricane. Authorities prefer to count casualties according to their immediate causes, such as heat stroke, rather than to their hurricane-related social causes, such as lack of air conditioning.
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THE PUERTO Rican people received a bit of good news when Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was forced to cancel a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings in late October.
The two-employee Montana-based firm--whose CEO is a friend of Interior Secretary Ryan Zincke and whose main investor is a Trump donor--raised eyebrows when it landed a no-bid contract to help restore the electrical grid only a few days after the hurricane struck. When a Washington Post report raised questions about the contract, Rosselló--who had earlier defended the contract with the island's public electrical utility--was forced to do an about-face.
The Whitefish contract might be the most obvious example of corruption, nepotism and profiteering off Puerto Rico's tragedy, but it's far from the most significant.
In fact, the completely "legal" privatization and profiteering in the wake of the crisis is well underway.
The Army Corps of Engineers--like FEMA, it seems, acting as a broker for private contractors--marked up a deal with Fluor Corporation, the Texas-based multinational engineering and construction firm, from $200 billion to $840 billion for work restoring the power grid.
With the likes of Whitefish out of the way, the "big fish" can move in--and rebuild a grid that will then be sold off to private investors, according to the longstanding plans of the current Puerto Rican government and the seven-member Fiscal Control Board imposed by the U.S. Congress.
Another major target for the privatizers is the more than 1,000 public schools on the island.
The Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR), the more socially conscious of the two main teachers' unions, is one of the only forces we witnessed firsthand organizing against the government's privatization schemes.
The FMPR is drawing the connection between the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina--which gave the state of Louisiana the opportunity to close all of New Orleans' schools and reopen them as charters--and Maria today.
Puerto Rican Education Secretary Julia Keleher has made little secret of wanting to use the crisis to change the pre-hurricane "status quo," adopting the language of school closers and privatizers in the U.S. But the FMPR is directly challenging the school closings--pressuring the local government to reopen ones that are safe for children to attend.
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BECAUSE OF the colonial relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, federal neglect after the hurricane and the already dire state of the economy infrastructure before Maria, the post-hurricane crisis promises to be more drawn out even than in places like New Orleans.
This could result in a situation that deteriorates very suddenly. Mass disease outbreaks are an ever-present threat, contributing to an extreme degree of instability that could go in any number of directions.
Already, stories are circulating by word of mouth--like people taking what they needed from a Walgreens before burning it to the ground--an example of what is to come if there isn't a drastic change for the better.
The common-sense feeling is that people can't rely on the government in a moment of crisis, and so they must organize themselves to make a terrible situation a bit better.
Everywhere we went, we met people who had lost everything, but were working against the school closings and for mutual aid. A slogan heard around the mutual aid centers that have arisen in different towns and cities captures that spirit: "Because we aren't rich, a collective response makes us rich."
People routinely pool their resources to meet the needs of larger numbers of people. A comrade who lives in a cooperative apartment building in San Juan told us that residents generate power for a collective refrigerator to make sure that everyone's basic food and medicinal needs are met.
The sense among many people with whom we spoke is that getting together to break out of social isolation and working together to meet people's needs is a form of collective therapy and a part of the process of rebuilding solidarity from below.
In Caguas, south of San Juan, comrades from the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo pointed out that since people can't cook at home on their electric stoves, they bring the food they get with their food stamps to the CAM as a donation--where it is shared out at communal meals serving hundreds.
The CAM slogan of "I can't eat austerity! I cook dignity!" has struck a chord. The crisis has led to a growth in the idea of self-organization from below.
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DESPITE THIS instinctive spirit of solidarity, a resistance to government and colonial indifference and private profiteering will take some time to develop, just because of the scale of the crisis.
A comrade from the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (MST, or Socialist Workers Movement) described, for example, how the group's first priority right after the hurricane had to be accounting for all of its members and allies, and helping each other clean up from the storm and get basic needs met.
In spite of the difficulties, though, comrades we met were part of organizing some small but important initiatives.
For example, the MST organized a small protest when Donald Trump came to town, raising the slogan "People Before Debt!" The Colectiva Feminista en Construcción protested the army's inefficient distribution of relief, demanding "More water, less militarization."
And the FMPR organized teachers and families for important protests and press conferences to keep schools open. We attended the union's protest at the Padre Rufo School in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. The school was opened the next week, proving yet again that protest and solidarity work!
While on a solidarity brigade with the FMPR, we visited a school in Guaynabo, the mountainous area outside of San Juan. At the somber meeting of teachers at the Escuela Rafael Hernandez--many of whom had lost everything in the storm--the educators discussed how to organize to get their school reopened, weighing and debating the risks involved in engaging in a struggle.
After several weeks of organizing families and teachers to engage in direct action at the offices of officials responsible for the decision, along with protests and interviews with the press, the school--one of the last in the area, so its closure would have been deeply felt--reopened!
Socialists reported an opening to socialist ideas and organizing outside of the two main political parties: the Partido Popular Democratico (the pro-commonwealth PPD, aligned with the Democrats, and the party of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz) and the Partido Nuevo Progresista (the pro-statehood PNP, currently led by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló).
Most people we met with described a left in Puerto Rico that had, even before the hurricane, struggled to find its feet and orientation in the face of a grave economic crisis that has disorganized many people's lives.
The unelected Fiscal Control Board, established under the 2016 federal law titled the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), has devastated the island by intensifying neoliberal policies of privatization and austerity.
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TO THIS point, the working class has been unable to launch the kind of resistance needed to stop privatization and force debt relief. After the hurricane, this dynamic is even more pronounced.
Almost all members of the left that we met pointed to 2008 as a turning point. Faced with harsh anti-union and anti-public education demands, the FMPR launched an island-wide strike that suffered a bitter defeat, leaving the union open to a government-sponsored decertification under newly passed labor legislation.
The result was the decimation of the island's most militant and socially conscious labor union. In subsequent elections, the Associación de Maestros (Teachers Association), a more conservative organization affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers in the U.S., displaced the FMPR as the sole representative of the teachers.
The FMPR has attempted to win back representation, but has been unable to. The organization has shrunk from a membership of 40,000 in 2008 to 3,000 today, according to FMPR President Mercedes Martinez.
The FMPR continues to be a key organization with Puerto Rico's social movements, but it has lost much of its social weight.
The weakening of the FMPR reinforced sectional, business-unionist tendencies in the rest of the labor movement. Labor has faced a decline based on a series of anti-union laws, mass layoffs, austerity measures, shifts in the economy and the exit of thousands of workers to the U.S. during the recession that has gripped the island since 2006.
All the comrades we met pointed to the weakness of the labor movement as a central reason why, as yet, there has not been a broader political movement or protest against the local or federal governments following Maria.
Due to the uncertainty and volatility of the situation, struggles may break out in any number of arenas. Yet all the activists we talked to realize they are up against powerful forces--like the U.S. military and Wall Street's richest firms, to name two--that will not be easily dislodged from pushing through austerity.
For that reason, all asked for solidarity and support from the U.S. Comrades from the Partido del Pueblo Trabajador (PPT, or the Working People's Party) stressed that political solidarity in the U.S. will be crucial over the next few months.
Specifically, they asked that U.S. organizations standing in solidarity with Puerto Rico organize around the follow demands: Billions from Congress to help in the reconstruction of the island; cancellation of Puerto Rico's debt; and the repeal of PROMESA and its austerity agenda.
These are demands we think anyone concerned with justice and democracy should enthusiastically endorse.
Labor Imperialism, Corporate Unionism And The SEIU Convention In Puerto Rico
This video covers the struggle against a union raid of the Puerto Rican Teachers Union FMPR by the SEIU International. FMPR members protested at the 2008 SEIU convention in Puerto Rico and the movement for independence from the US and about the raid of the SEIU international against the Puerto Rican teachers union. In the midst of the US presidential election and the visit to Puerto Rico by Democrats Clinton and Obama, the SEIU had it's national convention. Over 20,000 Puerto Ricans marched on June 1, 2008 for independence and against the interference in Puerto Rican politics by US politicians. At the same time, the Puerto Rican Teachers Union FMPR is fighting a raid by SEIU Chair of Healthcare Dennis Hickey Rivera and a pro-privatization supervisor's local that the SEIU has chartered to raid the FMPR this summer. This documentary also looks at some of the issues of democracy and corporatization that were being fought out on the SEIU convention floor by the delegates for rank and file control. Additionally the AFT using millions of dollars of union dues was funding a pro-corporate union franchise to oppose the FMPR. They eventually turned over the union in collusion with the capitalist government and Puerto Rican supporters of the US.
Production of Labor Video Project
AFT International Operations
October 2, 2006
"The LM-2 also reveals AFT spent nearly $1.9 million on its Puerto Rico project (see Item #2 below), an attempt to defeat an effort by its Puerto Rico affiliate to leave AFT. An additional $211,000 was disbursed to individuals in Puerto Rico engaged in organizing activities on AFT's behalf."
1) CleverSpin's Bill for AFT: $481,000. The U.S. Department of Labor has posted on its public disclosure web site the Labor Organization Annual Report (LM-2) of the American Federation of Teachers for 2005-06. Before delving into some details of the report, EIA will perform a public service by directing you to the source material, despite the Labor Department's decidedly not-user-friendly web structure.
a) Use this link for the LM-2 access page: http://erds.dol-esa.gov/query/getOrgQry.do
(If, for some reason, the direct link doesn't work, go to http://union-reports.dol.gov/ and click on the Union Form LM-2 Search link)
b) On the "Union or Trust Search" page, go to the box next to "File Number" and type in
000-012 then click the Submit button.
c) When the page comes up, click on the 2006 Report link, then wait, because it's large.
d) Knock yourself out.
AFT spent a total of $214 million in the last fiscal year, of which it categorized $14 million as political activities and lobbying. Rather than bore you again with a discussion of the various ways of measuring AFT membership (see Item #2 here), let's just state that in 2004-05, AFT reported 828,500 members on its LM-2, and in 2005-06 reported 822,504. I'm sure the union has an explanation for why this isn't a membership loss, but I'll let their communications people do their own thing without trying to anticipate their spin.
AFT President Edward McElroy was the highest paid officer, earning $282,800 in salary, plus $33,150 in taxable allowances, for a total of $315,950. The union's highest paid employees were Chief of Staff Ronald Krouse and organizing director Philip Kugler, both at $194,960. Bella Rosenberg, assistant to the AFT president, earned $210,243, but that amount probably includes previously deferred income.
The LM-2 details all of AFT's spending. Of particular interest to EIA was the amount spent on the AFT communications audit conducted by the design firm CleverSpin, which caused a ruckus when EIA revealed its contents in an August 7 communiqué. For all of its services during the 2005-06 period, including the audit, branding assistance and consulting fees, CleverSpin received $481,000 from AFT. CleverSpin's Kris Kemmerer, who directed the audit, was hired in August as AFT's assistant to the president for communications.
The LM-2 also reveals AFT spent nearly $1.9 million on its Puerto Rico project (see Item #2 below), an attempt to defeat an effort by its Puerto Rico affiliate to leave AFT. An additional $211,000 was disbursed to individuals in Puerto Rico engaged in organizing activities on AFT's behalf.
Other spending of note:
* $160,000 to the Economic Policy Institute.
* $5,000 to the United Federation of Teachers Elementary Charter School.
* $21,750 to the Peter D. Hart Research Association, Inc. to conduct focus groups on charter schools.
* $349,348 to the United Teachers of New Orleans to keep that local in operation.
* $15,000 to the Sweeney Solidarity Team, the slate of candidates vying for reelection to the leadership of the AFL-CIO last year.
* $6,387 to Jonathan Tasini, president of the Economic Future Group, former president of the National Writers Union, blogger of WorkingLife, and candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in New York who was crushed by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.
2) Teacher Union Wars in Puerto Rico Not Done Yet. When AFT cut its losses and surrendered in Puerto Rico, there was good reason to believe that the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) would return to obscurity, as far as the U.S. national labor movement was concerned. But apparently that isn't the case.
Without AFT backing, local opponents of FMPR President Rafael Feliciano and his caucus have looked elsewhere for support, and appear to have found it in two places, if the scuttlebutt is to be believed: the formerly NEA-affiliated Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (ASOMA) and the United Auto Workers.
ASOMA left NEA and collapsed as a viable organization soon after FMPR won exclusive representation rights in a 1999 election. Now it's back, allegedly bolstered by FMPR dissidents and seed money from the United Auto Workers, which has a significant presence on the island.
ASOMA is seeking a new representation election for some 40,000 teachers in Puerto Rico, which we can expect FMPR to fight with all the verve it displayed in the AFT disaffiliation battle.
3) Cash, Staff and Autonomy Brought Buffalo into NYSUT Fold. Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) President Phil Rumore revealed the details of his local's affiliation agreement with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), and it appears he got most of what he wanted.
BTF received what amounts to an additional UniServ director, and all three of these labor relations specialist will operate out of BTF headquarters, rather than NYSUT's regional office. BTF will also receive an attorney and an assistant, guaranteed reimbursements for certain workshops and office space, and a two-year, $80,000 transition grant from NEA. BTF's concerns about the independence of its local PAC were also assuaged by NYSUT.
Rumore refers to the arrangement as a trial affiliation, but it's clear that it would be a much more difficult move to disaffiliate from NYSUT than not to affiliate in the first place. For all intents and purposes, NYSUT is, and will continue to be, the one and only parent affiliate for New York's teachers' unions.
4) Union Vote Hits the Van in Fort Wayne. Last week, EIA reported on the battle between the Teamsters and the Indiana State Teachers Association in Fort Wayne to represent the district's bus drivers. The magic number was 112 votes a simple majority of the bargaining unit. But the vote held last Friday ended with a 96-94 result in favor of ISTA. A revote has not yet been scheduled.
ISTA officials told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette that bus drivers "have found feces smeared on bus seats, vandalism to the buses and items taken from the buses."
Teamster officials deny having anything to do with the vandalism, and accuse ISTA of lying about whether it will institute agency fees if elected.
Since both sides now know how close the vote is, expect an escalated series of incidents and accusations.
5) Last Week's Intercepts. EIA's blog, Intercepts, covered these topics from September 25-October 2:
* The Law of Averages. Union officers complain about average teacher salary. Not the amount, but the use of averages.
* Most of Connecticut NCLB Lawsuit Dismissed. We're fortunate that it's a lot harder win a lawsuit than to file one.
* CTA, UTLA on Opposite Sides of Campaign Finance Initiative. Who's trying to silence the voice of working people? Maybe we all are.
6) Quote of the Week. "The struggle in which we are engaged is as vital to our future today as was the outcome of the Civil War to our nation in 1860. The goal of these locusts is to impose their will on state after state until they have completely demolished government as we know it. There is a time for every generation to rise to the call when the very existence of our nation, our state, our values, our culture and our public schools are threatened with extinction." Nebraska State Education Association Executive Director Jim Griess on Initiative 423. (October 2006 The NSEA Voice)
Editor's Note: The Civil War was a violent armed struggle in which more than 600,000 Americans died, and was fought over questions like slavery vs. freedom.
Initiative 423 is a Nebraska ballot measure that would limit state government spending to previous years' amounts, with allowed increases for inflation and population growth.
May 31, 2005
1) AFT Embarks on Civil War in Puerto Rico. The American Federation of Teachers plans to establish an administratorship over its affiliate in Puerto Rico, but the union president says he will fight the effort with every means at his disposal.
The island has been a hotbed of union conflict for both the NEA and the AFT for many years (see the July 15, 2004 EIA Communiqué for a summary). The two unions battled for exclusive representation against the backdrop of national merger talks in 1998, the AFT affiliate (the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, or FMPR) won the representation election, the NEA affiliate left NEA and became independent, and FMPR's medical plan went bankrupt. In May 2003, Rafael Feliciano Hernandez ran for president of FMPR on a platform of reform and disaffiliation from AFT. He won, but the divorce from AFT did not occur as planned.
Last year, Feliciano claimed AFT officials contacted FMPR's former leaders in an effort to keep the union affiliated. Accusations flew back and forth, with some FMPR officials charging Feliciano with corruption and unconstitutional actions, and Feliciano claiming AFT was trying to undermine his authority.
Matters came to a head on September 29, 2004. Details of what occurred that day are in deep dispute, but both sides acknowledge that a vote on disaffiliation was held, and that the result was overwhelmingly in favor of disaffiliation.
AFT did not recognize the disaffiliation, and while FMPR stopped paying dues to AFT, it continued to make payments on a $1.9 million remnant of a loan from the 1999 representation election campaign. Relations between the two unions remained in a hazy limbo until January 2005, when hundreds of FMPR reps opposed to disaffiliation petitioned AFT to investigate the vote and the tenure of Feliciano.
In March, AFT sent national vice presidents John Cole of Texas and Maria Portalatín of New York (chosen for their fluency in Spanish) to the island to conduct interviews. The investigation was not ideal, since opponents of the disaffiliation were eager to testify, but Feliciano and his supporters no longer recognized the authority of the AFT, and so did not cooperate.
After a three-day probe, Cole and Portalatín concluded that the FMPR leadership had committed multiple violations of both the AFT and FMPR constitutions. They advised AFT to "follow the procedures for the creation of an administration committee," saying it was "the only remedy that will restore the rights" of FMPR members. The AFT Executive Council approved the recommendation and will send Cole, Portalatín and John Doherty of Chicago back to Puerto Rico to begin proceedings for the establishment of an administratorship over the union.
The AFT team reported that the disaffiliation vote was not placed on the agenda of delegate assembly 30 days prior, as required by the FMPR constitution, that there may have been ineligible delegates who voted, and that the conduct of debate was slanted in favor of those who wanted to disaffiliate. Additionally, the AFT team stated that disaffiliation required an amendment to the FMPR constitution, and that the process for constitutional amendments was not followed. Finally, the team accused Feliciano of administering the union budget without the proper oversight by FMPR's representative bodies.
In response, Feliciano issued a statement repudiating AFT's plans and announcing that FMPR did not recognize AFT's authority. Feliciano called AFT's action a "declaration of war" against FMPR and all the unions, political and social organizations that support it. Over the weekend, supporters and opponents of Feliciano held dueling press conferences to alternately praise and denounce him.
Though the dispute may seem like small potatoes in a faraway place, the FMPR has as many members as AFT's affiliate in Chicago, and there is a huge amount of money at stake. If Feliciano is corrupt and is seizing undemocratic control of an AFT affiliate, then AFT has the right and responsibility to act. But this is a different scenario than what happened in Washington, DC and Miami, where AFT let long-time union presidents bleed their locals dry before stepping in.
Feliciano and his slate announced their intentions to disaffiliate from AFT while they were candidates in 2003, and they were elected. That a disaffiliation should then take place hardly seems to fly in the face of the will of the members. Second, does AFT really have the authority to intervene? What's to stop the union from reversing any disaffiliation vote in the same manner? The election losers call you in, you hear testimony from them, you rule the vote was improper and you establish national control over the affiliate. Whether Feliciano is a crook or a saint, he'd be insane to trust AFT to impartially judge the situation. AFT has a huge financial stake in the outcome.
Whatever AFT or FMPR does in the next month, this whole mess is going to end up in a courtroom, where it belongs.
P.S. Search if you will for any mention of this anywhere on the AFT web site, or in any of its many publications, statements or releases.
2) AFL-CIO Rebels Courted NEA?
November 15, 1999 + The NEA-AFT merger may not have worked out, but in Puerto Rico the AFT merged unions the old-fashioned way -- by winning an election to become the exclusive bargaining representative for the island¹s 37,000 teachers. The victory makes the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR) the second-largest AFT affiliate in the nation, behind only the United Federation of Teachers in New York City. While NEA sank at least $350,000 into its campaign, the union couldn¹t match the on-the-ground organizing of AFT, which brought in allies from AFL-CIO member unions to help in the effort. NEA will lose the dues income (an estimated $2 million annually) generated by its affiliate, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR). But a bigger blow was the final tally -- 22,156 votes for AFT and 8,024 for NEA -- indicating that a large number of the 22,000 full-time and part-time NEA members voted for their AFT rivals.
Puerto Rico teachers defeat SEIU raid
Excerpts selected from an article by Brian Cruz, a rank-and-file member of SEIU Local 1021 in the Bay Area.--Oct 31, 2008
PUBLIC SCHOOL teachers in Puerto Rico overwhelmingly voted October 23 to reject representation by the Puerto Rico Teachers Union (SPM)--a union affiliated with the U.S.-based Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Those who voted "no" to the SPM weren't voting against having a union, however. In effect, they were voting in favor of their current union, the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR), which was not allowed on the ballot. The 42-year-old FMPR previously had exclusive rights to represent the teachers. However, the FMPR was decertified by an anti-labor government in January 2008 for voting to go on strike. This created an opening for the SEIU to push its affiliate, the SPM.
The cards seemed stacked against the FMPR. Under Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vilá of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), the Puerto Rican government had been unwilling to agree to a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers. The FMPR sensed an impasse and decided strike for better wages, better conditions at schools for both teachers and students, and a halt to the privatization of the schools through the expansion of charter schools. However, the island's Law 45 prohibits public workers from striking, so the government decertified the FMPR even before the strike began in early February.
More than just a viciously anti-union government was at play here. In the New York Daily News, columnist Juan Gonzalez revealed that Vilá and Dennis Rivera, a top leader of SEIU, had arranged a deal in which SEIU would contribute to Vilá's campaign for re-election if Vilá would support SEIU's attempts to gain representation. The plan for the raid was for Vilá to refuse to negotiate, and then let SEIU run in a representation election. The vehicle for this plan would be the Teachers Association of Puerto Rico (AMPR), which associated with SEIU in late 2007. AMPR is an organization of administrators of the school system, such as principals and regional directors. As such, it can't represent teachers under Law 45, and in practice, never represents the interests of actual teachers in work disputes. So AMPR created SPM, whose general secretary and main spokesperson, Aida Diáz, is also president of AMPR.
While FMPR won widespread support for its strike, AMPR moved to undermine the struggle. It denounced FMPR for striking, then ran uncontested, via SPM and aided by staff and resources of SEIU, for exclusive representation rights. At first, FMPR challenged the decision that it wouldn't be allowed to participate in the election on the grounds that Law 45 had no provision prohibiting decertified unions from participating. FMPR leaders submitted 12,000 teachers' signatures petitioning for their appearance on the ballot--for which only 8,000 signatures are required. Yet the authorities still denied FMPR a place on the ballot. When they realized the unfair election would continue as planned, FMPR organized a vigorous "vote no" campaign. If successful, it would mean that the SPM wouldn't win exclusive representation rights and the FMPR would still exist as a "bona fide organization" under Puerto Rican law.
By one estimate, SEIU committed between $10 million and $20 million to the campaign, with more than 300 paid organizers on the ground, slick ads and free t-shirts. The FMPR, on the other hand, spent a mere $65,000 ($30,000 of it in loans), with mostly volunteers organizing. The difference is that these "volunteers" were the same people who helped organize the 10-day strike in February that won a wage increase and put a stop to the spread of charter schools. They were rank-and-file members with experience and a history of struggle alongside their co-workers.
FMPR's "vote no" campaign won a clear victory. The official tally is 18,123 to 14,675, in a vote where turnout was nearly 94 %. The victory is all the more impressive given that FMPR was denied the right to have observers at polling places, and that various vote shenanigans took place, with votes appearing after the last day of the election, and various "no" votes being counted as "yes." Now that FMPR has won, it continues to exist as the main organizer of teachers. However, it is not the formal collective bargaining agent. FMPR will maintain its network of shop stewards, continue to represent teachers at the school level, and to fight around issues such as wages and privatization. Eventually, FMPR could perhaps reestablish exclusive representation for the teachers.
The U.S. labor movement has a sordid history of collaborating with the State Department and CIA to undermine labor and democratic movements in other countries. SEIU's alliance with an anti-labor government to raid FMPR is only another chapter. SEIU's defeat in Puerto Rico is humiliating for SEIU President Andrew Stern, who seeks to remold the labor movement in his image. During Stern's 12 years in office, he and his team have centralized power in SEIU at the International level, in the name of being able to negotiate better contracts via "partnership" with employers and organize workers even faster. The result of substituting a militant rank and file with a small team of highly paid staffers is apparent. The types of deals being negotiated from the top have been so bad that rank-and-file workers are increasingly rejecting them.
Obviously, the black eye received by SEIU didn't help the SPM's campaign against the FMPR. Also, the challenge to the top SEIU leadership by UHW and reformers in other locals undermined SEIU's claim to be the way forward for the labor movement. The victory of the FMPR over the alliance of the Puerto Rican government, school administrators and SEIU teaches us important lessons about building unions today. First, it underlines the importance of building a fighting union from the bottom up, as opposed to more bureaucratic methods. Second, it teaches us the importance of genuine labor internationalism, based on rank-and-file action, solidarity and a commitment to union democracy.
Puerto Rican Government & SEIU International In Collusion To Disenfranchise FMPR In Upcoming Election: No Democratic Choice For 40,000 Teachers
Dear Fellow Workers:
Attached is my report to the Board of Directors of the FMPR, made up of the presidents and vice presidents of the 84 locals which constitute the Federation. As you can observe, the same speaks for itself.
Events are moving at hurricane speed in the schools of Puerto Rico. Last week:
We began with an avalanche of new members, approximately one hundred a day, which reflects that our process of recuperation, based on voluntary work, has gained velocity.
Our executive committee met.
We developed an intense campaign against corruption in the Department of Education. This resulted in a front page article of the newspaper El Vocero last Friday and great difficulties for the government.
Dozens of controversies were resolved in the schools. The Puerto Rican Independence Party presented their support for the FMPR actions in favor of the legislated wage increases (Wednesday) at their press conference.
Our petition for reconsideration on the matter of the biometric time clocks as unconstitutional was rejected. The case will have to be taken to the Court of Appeals.
The Department of Education’s reconsideration against the FMPR on the matter of the “MANDAMUS” to force the payment of what is owed the teachers was rejected; the Department of Education has initiated the payments.
The Commission on Labor Relations for the Public Sector (CRTSP) has convened union elections between September 30 and October 15 and excluded the FMPR from the election.
We held a press conference and next Monday we will go to court to ask for an urgent order so that the FMPR be included in the election.
The government-boss obviously and the SEIU-Association are trying by all means to exclude the FMPR since they know that they will be defeated if it participates.
We expect to prevail in court and appear on the ballot because:
The CRTSP resolution is a determination without a legal basis. The law of unionization, Number 45, does not state that an organization which has been decertified cannot compete in a union election if it has the endorsements required by the law; in this case it is 8,000 and the FMPR submitted 12,000.
In the case of the decertification which has gone to trial, there was no disposition which prohibits the organization from participating in a new election.
The CRTSP Resolution violates the due process of the law because it deprives us of our right to participate.
The group UNETE solicited participation, after the FMPR, and their endorsement cards were accepted. Yet, they did not collect the minimum necessary. They collected less than 1,500.
It is important to denounce internationally the conspiracy of the government-boss and the SEIU-Association to deny that the teachers can freely select the labor organization they desire to represent them.
Our strong point: the people. Our weak point: the lack of material resources. Any help in solidarity is welcome. It is necessary to compliment the network of volunteers with an organizational network.
Rafael Feliciano Hernández
President FMPR (Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico)
Puerto Rican Labor Struggle: Teachers Vote Against Joining SEIU
October 27, 2008
Puerto Rican Labor Struggle: Teachers Vote Against Joining SEIU
It’s a major victory for the forty-two-year-old Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, or FMPR. It was Puerto Rico’s largest union, representing over 40,000 teachers. But earlier this year, after many months of trying to negotiate with the governor, the FMPR was decertified over its refusal to comply with a ban on strikes by public employees.
Rafael Feliciano, president of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, or FMPR. He joins us on the telephone from San Juan.
Steve Early, labor journalist who’s been closely following the debates in Puerto Rico. For twenty-seven years, he was an organizer for the Communications Workers of America, and his forthcoming book is called Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home.
JUAN GONZALEZ: After a battle that’s been raging for months, public school teachers in Puerto Rico have voted against joining a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, or the SEIU. It’s a major victory for the forty-two-year-old Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, or FMPR. It was Puerto Rico’s largest union, representing over 40,000 teachers.
But earlier this year, after many months of trying to negotiate with the governor, the FMPR was decertified over its refusal to comply with a ban on strikes by public employees. The FMPR claims that the SEIU allied with Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo Vilá and raided their leadership. The SEIU-affiliated union, the Puerto Rican Teacher’s Union, or SPM, lost by nearly 3,500 votes.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Rafael Feliciano is the president of the Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico, or FMPR. He joins us on the phone from San Juan. We’re also joined from Boston by veteran labor organizer and reporter Steve Early, who has been closely following the debates in Puerto Rico. For more than a quarter of a century, he was an organizer for the Communications Workers of America. His forthcoming book is called Embedded with Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home.
We did invite representatives of the SEIU to come on the broadcast, but they declined.
Rafael Feliciano, Steve Early, welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Rafael Feliciano. Can you talk about the defeat of SEIU in Puerto Rico? Why did members of the teachers union vote not to affiliate with the SEIU-affiliated union?
RAFAEL FELICIANO: Well, first of all, thanks for the opportunity. The [inaudible]—in Puerto Rico, the teachers have a union. The FMPR is the union of the teachers in Puerto Rico. We developed a very strong strike in February of this year, and the government make an alliance with SEIU international union to attack our union, to attack our teachers. Our union is a very democratic, rank-and-file union that has a commitment to develop a good education for our working-class students, and we fight against charter schools and No Child Left Behind.
Our struggle in the strike and all our struggle is very strong, and what the government do is make an alliance with the SEIU international to broke our movement. But our teachers vote no to this fate, that the SEIU [inaudible] SPM, that is what—a union created by the bosses to attack our union and to substitute our union. But most of the teachers vote no, because they want union. They don’t vote no against the union; they vote no to defeat the bosses’ union and to affirm and to say that they want FMPR as their own union. And I think that this is a very big victory for all the workers of the world, because it’s a victory of the rank and file, and it’s a victory of the union with social commitment, it’s a victory of the union as a working-class mechanism to work for a better future for the workers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Rafael Feliciano, when your union was decertified by the government following—or actually before you started your strike earlier this year, the new vote only had a yes or no on whether the teachers wanted to affiliate to the SEIU-backed union. Why did they not include your union on the ballot so that the employees could have a choice?
RAFAEL FELICIANO: Well, first of all, the victory of the no also says that the teachers—the teachers, the workers—never decertify our union. The bosses, the government decertify our union, because we fight for our rights and we struggle for a better education.
What happened is that with the strike finished, we go to the teachers, and they sign cards, and we have 11,000 of cards to be in the election. It’s something like an inscription to the election. Well, what happened is that the government said that we will—we cannot be in the election. They make a very bad interpretation of the law against us. And obviously, the process was very anti-democratic, because we have the signs to be in the election, we have—we don’t have any observers, we don’t have the list of the voters in—between the last day of the election, for example, between the last day of the election and the day that the commission counts the votes, they—the persons that can be in the election go high 4,000. When the election begins, all the teachers in the election were 36,000. But they put so many votes inside, illegal votes, that at the end they say that the—our teachers were 40,000.
Obviously, we won very up, and we have a very open victory, and all the threats or all the things, bad things, that they do in the commission cannot stop our movement. And I think that they make a process with many illegal things to put that bosses’ union, that business union, to support SEIU, but the government was defeated by the workers again.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Rafael Feliciano, president of the Puerto Rican teachers union in San Juan. We’re also joined by Steve Early in Boston, labor journalist. His forthcoming book is called Embedded with Organized Labor. Juan, I remember when you went down to Puerto Rico. This is in the midst of the campaign, the primaries. And in the end, isn’t it true, Barack Obama did not go to Puerto Rico because of the massive protest of the teachers outside against SEIU, and he didn’t want to get involved?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes, and actually, there were protests because SEIU was scheduling its convention, its annual convention, in Puerto Rico this year, and there were protests, and some of the teachers who were protesting outside were arrested. But I’d like to ask Steve Early, the implications of this vote for the continuing battles that are breaking out in the United States over SEIU, one of the fastest growing, or supposedly one of the most progressive unions in the country, the implications of what has happened in Puerto Rico?
STEVE EARLY: Well, I think this, as Rafi just said, Juan, was a tremendously important union representation vote. This is the largest bargaining unit in Puerto Rico. And I think it’s really sad that a time when the Service Employees and other unions are campaigning here on the mainland for Obama and campaigning for the enactment in 2009, hopefully, of legislation that will protect employees’ free choice of a union in the private sector, that teachers in Puerto Rico didn’t have that choice on the ballot last week. If the FMPR had been on the ballot, it certainly would have been reinstated with full collective bargaining rights.
I think this is really a victory for the many people on the mainland who rallied to the side of the Puerto Rican teachers. There was a support committee formed in New York, out in California, to resist this North American union raid. The Puerto Rican teachers organization that Rafi heads received financial support from the California nurses, an independent union now affiliated with the AFL-CIO here. And within SEIU itself, dissident members, reform-minded delegates to the SEIU convention in Puerto Rico, bravely protested the treatment of the teachers when they tried to picket the convention, when they were man-handled by the riot police. And I think this is going to embolden reformers within SEIU, who in California right now are still resisting an attempt by the international union to put the third-largest SEIU local under trusteeship, United Healthcare Workers West, whose president Sal Rosselli you had on the show last spring.
AMY GOODMAN: Steve Early, let me ask, when we tried to get SEIU to join us today, they said they were too busy, involved with getting out the vote for Barack Obama and organizing on the campaign trail. What is the significance for this major union of this defeat in Puerto Rico?
STEVE EARLY: Well, I think some of the developments in SEIU lately—the big corruption scandal in the union’s second-largest local in Los Angeles, this dispute with the UHW, excuse me, in the Bay Area, this disgraceful intervention in Puerto Rico—these are tarnishing the image, not only of SEIU, but all unions. And I think if we’re going to succeed under an Obama administration with a Congress that will hopefully have more Democrats in the House and Senate in enacting legislation here on the mainland to strengthen workers’ rights—and I’m referring to the Employee Free Choice Act—I don’t think it helps that campaign when unions engage in conduct that besmirches the image of all labor. So, I think, as much as SEIU is doing in a valuable way to help with voter turnout and to help elect more pro-labor candidates in the election this fall, their actions in Puerto Rico, their internal behavior vis-a-vis their own members, is not being helpful at this point.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to go back to Rafael Feliciano in San Juan and ask you about the role of Dennis Rivera, who is the—who was a longtime leader of the 1199 here in New York, a national leader now of SEIU, and he spearheaded a lot of the efforts in Puerto Rico to bring the SEIU in. But you—and you also have an election right there in Puerto Rico. You have a gubernatorial election coming up next week, but yet the governor of Puerto Rico and Dennis Rivera established, in essence, an alliance against you. Could you talk about that?
RAFAEL FELICIANO: Yes. First of all, Dennis Rivera was a direct—has a direct intervention in the election against us. He was all in constant taking the direction of the election against us personally. But I cannot—I want to say to you that Dennis Rivera and the government make an alliance. SEIU said that they will put money for the re-election campaign of Anibal Acevedo Vilá. That is the governor of Puerto Rico. We said that that is very bad for the labor movement, because they make a compromise with the bosses, with the dominant class in Puerto Rico, against the workers. The alliance was—they put money for the re-election of Anibal Acevedo Vilá. And Anibal Acevedo Vilá used his influence in the Department of Education and in the courts to attack our union.
But at the end, the people that suffers that kind of action are the workers first, the teachers—most of them are women—but also our students, because in his attack to the Federacion, they make many things bad for our Department of Education and for the educational process in Puerto Rico.
We think that our victory is a victory against the dominant class, and that make a little crack in the hegemony of the bourgeoisie of Puerto Rico against the workers, and also is a big—a big lesson to all the workers. If we have a very strong rank-and-file union, if we have a very democratic union, if the decision is taken from the bottom, we can make a strike, and we can defeat the alliance of many sectors of the dominant class. And also, more important of all of that is that we
The SEIU International used millions of dollars of union member dues to raid the teacher's union in Puerto Rico. While millions of workers are unorganized in the US the pro-capitalist leadership of the AFT and SEIU along with other unions are supposedly organizing other workers outside the US.
AFT president Randi Weingarten supports the "good charter" schools like Greendot in New York and Los Angeles while spending millions of members money on supporting pro-corporate pro charter unions in Puerto Rico. She and the leadership of the AFT have also worked with the CIA and National Endowment for Democracy NED to support the overthrow of left governments and the privatization of education in the Ukraine and around the world.
The AFT has been colluding with the "education reformer" billionaires like the Broad Foundation, Gates Foundation and even the Walton Foundation owned by the owner of Walmart to make education better. They support management-labor collaboration and have pushed the Common Core backed by the same privatizers.
The Puerto Rican workers have been protesting against privatization and union busting by not only the US capitalists but US pro-corporate union bureaucrats who want to control the labor movement.