by Gonzalo Baeza | May 19, 2011
Gov. Luis Fortuño signs a bill restoring collective bargaining rights to Puerto Rico’s public service employees. (Photo credit: Brenda Vargas)
Members of Puerto Rico’s Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU)/AFSCME Council 95, had cause to celebrate on Tuesday when a new bill reinstating collective bargaining was finally signed into law by Gov. Luis Fortuño. The bill was unanimously passed by both the House and the Senate, signaling the degree of consensus on workers’ rights among both the ruling New Progressive Party and the opposition Popular Democratic Party.
"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," said SPU President Annette González, and "negotiate the economic aspects that will do justice to workers and their families."
Drawing a contrast with the attack on collective bargaining rights by other governors across the states, Fortuño said the law marked "a new era of collaboration and open dialogue" with unions. "This administration remains committed to our workforce and we remain open to transparently negotiating their requests," he added.
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 is a victory that Puerto Rico’s labor movement – spearheaded by SPU – fought hard to win. They were out front in the battle to restore their rights, taking to the streets and conducting an intense grassroots lobbying campaign with their legislators. Their voices were heard, loud and clear. We hope other governors take note that budget problems are best solved when workers can exercise their basic American right to negotiate over wages, benefits and working conditions.