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Puerto Rico Members Protest Austerity Plan

Photo Credit: Annette Gonzalez, Council 95
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By AFSCME Staff Worth the Fight Retirement Security

AFSCME members in Puerto Rico took part in this week’s mass demonstrations to oppose pension and salary cuts for public service workers and other austerity measures that have been proposed to resolve the commonwealth’s debt crisis.

A fiscal plan certified by the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico on April 19 is based on wildly optimistic assumptions of economic growth and revenue collection, according to AFSCME’s analysis.

Despite the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Maria and a subsequent 12 percent decline in the commonwealth’s population, the plan’s supporters insist that the measures would generate a six-year surplus of $6.7 billion. That will be achieved in part on the backs of public service workers and retirees – by slashing their pay and pensions. 

Over time, the fiscal plan won’t overcome the harm caused by these austerity measures. Large payouts to creditors and bondholders can only be achieved by reducing assistance to the poor and cutting public compensation programs. As Puerto Rico’s struggles continue, a new round of cuts to workers and services will ensue, putting Puerto Rico on a path to a second restructuring. 

That’s why AFSCME President Lee Saunders calls the fiscal plan a “betrayal of the people of Puerto Rico.”

“The board is condemning Puerto Rico to economic decline for years to come,” Saunders said in a statement. “The board is engaging in the same fantastical thinking regarding Puerto Rico’s economic growth that created the current situation.”

AFSCME separately opposes a proposal by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló that would further hurt Puerto Rico’s struggling economy by offshoring jobs, reducing tax collections and ultimately ballooning the commonwealth’s substantial operating deficit. 

Puerto Ricans’ frustration with austerity measures, slow hurricane recovery and school closures boiled over onto the streets of the commonwealth’s capital, San Juan, on Tuesday. Some protests turned violent after demonstrators clashed with the police. 

Life has become so difficult in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island last year that Saunders has called on Congress to create a Marshall Plan to help the commonwealth return to normalcy.

Thousands of public service workers and retirees in Puerto Rico who proudly call themselves members of AFSCME Council 95/Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU) have done extraordinary work to help the commonwealth recover from Maria’s destruction.

They continue to serve their communities every day despite personal hardships. They deserve fair treatment from their leaders, not a plan that will gut their paychecks and dismantle the retirement security they were promised and worked so hard to achieve.

Photo Credit: Annette Gonzalez, Council 95
Photo Credit: Annette Gonzalez, Council 95