The mood was upbeat at Escuela Antonio Sarriera Egozcue, a Puerto Rican school in San Juan, as AFT leaders donned T-shirts and jeans at a school cleanup. As they gardened, painted and made repairs around campus, the message was clear: The AFT is putting muscle behind its commitment to Puerto Rico. Muscle and money. The union also announced a $75,000 donation to the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the AFT’s Puerto Rico teachers affiliate, to provide financial assistance to educators who continue to be severely impacted by natural disasters, including Hurricane Fiona.
“In the last few years, Puerto Rico has been battered and devastated by earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes, leaving them to rebuild over and over again,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, who was among those planting flowers outside the school. “This $75,000 donation will provide a lifeline and help our children and teachers giving their all to assist the island in its recovery. This is what it means to be in a union, and we have a responsibility to lift each and every community up when they are struggling.”
Leaders also distributed backpacks and school supplies to local children and their families. And they put their heads together with legislators, business entities and other community figures at the headline event—the SOMOS conference, held Nov. 9-13—where policymakers and advocates addressed the most challenging issues facing the Latino community today.
Discussion panels, workshops and networking focused on issues like health equity, food insecurity and reproductive justice. Weingarten joined AMPR President Víctor M. Bonilla Sánchez and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew on a workers’ rights panel to describe the important role unions have played in the revitalization of Puerto Rico.
New York policy was central, as SOMOS is based in that state, but much of the work applied to Latino people across the United States, including in Puerto Rico—a place so closely tied to New York City, some New Yorkers call it “the sixth borough.” Among the legislator luminaries at the event were recently elected New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). Leaders from some of the AFT’s largest affiliates included New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta, Public Employees Federation President Wayne Spence, Professional Staff Congress President James Davis (representing faculty and staff at the City University of New York) and UFT staff director Anthony Harmon, all of whom are AFT vice presidents.
Dozens of volunteers pitched in at Escuela Antonio Sarriera Egozcue in San Juan; Yonkers Federation of Teachers President Samantha Rosado-Ciriello even designed and painted a mural there.
“As a puertorriqueña, I could not be prouder of today’s disaster relief donation to the resilient teachers and students of Puerto Rico,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. “I am so grateful to the dozens of volunteers who said ‘presente’ and spent their day ensuring that students have a safe and welcoming school.”
[Virginia Myers and AFT communications staff]