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As Puerto Rico Struggles, AFSCME Members Step Up to Help

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Members of the Delaware Division of Revenue, AFSCME Local 1385 (Council 81), compile care packages for their sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Deidre Ottley)
Members of the Delaware Division of Revenue, AFSCME Local 1385 (Council 81), compile care packages for their sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Deidre Ottley)

By now, most of the world knows that Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017, leaving the island without electricity, water or communications. Four months later, the struggle continues, with nearly 30 percent of the island still without power and frequent outages for areas that do have power. The death toll remains at 64, a figure that has been broadly seen as massively under-reported.

Despite all the challenges, Council 95/Servidores Públicos Unidos (SPU) members continue to go to work in terrible conditions. They show up because they are committed to their communities. As reported in this Spanish-language WAPA television broadcast from Lioza, Puerto Rico, Family Department workers continue to work without air conditioning, running water and in mold-ridden conditions that have not changed much since our original reporting in December 2017.

AFSCME members across the nation continue to step up to help their sisters and brothers on the island with donations to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund and locals stepping up to collect their own donations. Recently, the Delaware Division of Revenue workers, members of AFSCME Local 1385 (Council 81), sent several care packages to Council 95.

Kimberly Duncan and David Obedzinski of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain accept a donation for the Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Fund from AFSCME Local 1214 (Council 4) members Cathy Bergren, Nancy Taylor, Paul Morganti and Adeline Yllanes. (Photo by Larry Dorman)
Kimberly Duncan and David Obedzinski of the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain accept a donation for the Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Fund from AFSCME Local 1214 (Council 4) members Cathy Bergren, Nancy Taylor, Paul Morganti and Adeline Yllanes. (Photo by Larry Dorman)

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them and we hope that our love will be felt by the receipt of these care packages,” said Deidre Ottley, president Local 1385. In December, workers at the Charter Oak State College and the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium, AFSCME Local 1214, (Council 4), donated $1,500 to the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain’s Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico Relief Fund.

“Each of these gifts are a reminder to us each day that we are not alone,” said Annette Gonzalez, Council 95 president. “Our challenge from the beginning has been to give our members hope, show them solidarity and think outside the box to find resources for our most affected members. We have received unconditional support from our sisters and brothers of AFSCME and they have never abandoned us. Being part of the AFSCME family has been fundamental to the recovery process.”

SPU has delivered 1,500 cases of water, 1,002 bags of food, 200 hygienic supplies bags, and 700 packages containing health and safety articles to protect people at work and during clean-up at home. In addition, AFSCME has partnered with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to distribute more than 1,000 water filters to Education Department worksites to support students, especially those with special needs.

Day-to-day life in Puerto Rico continues to be a struggle, from the lack of traffic lights at most intersections to rolling power outages. Water supplies are still not at 100 percent. But AFSCME members of Council 95 continue to go to work. Having persevered throughout the storm, Council 95 will never quit on their work to lift of their communities.