María del Carmen Gutiérrez Rodríguez
SAN JUAN—Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the union representing more than 40,000 Puerto Rican educators; AMPR-Local Sindical; and the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers signed a historic affiliation agreement today that will strengthen their joint fight against austerity and privatization and for public education and economic opportunity for the people of Puerto Rico.
AMPR and AMPR-Local Sindical delegates and the AFT’s executive council both voted overwhelmingly to approve the joint affiliation agreement, following AMPR member meetings held across the island.
The Puerto Rican people are facing down a $70 billion debt crisis that has gutted the economy and wrought a devastating impact on public education, leading to 60,000 fewer students in the school system and tens of thousands of people leaving the island. The crisis has caused the closure of 164 neighborhood public schools and the stripping of benefits and retirement security from teachers and public employees. Teacher salaries in Puerto Rico have been stagnant, as hedge funds and an unelected control board have tried, and failed, to solve the crisis on their backs and the backs of the most vulnerable.
AMPR President Aida Diaz said: “Teachers are teachers no matter where they work, and we should be treated as professionals and respected by the government and the public as a vital and necessary resource. Every country wants to improve its economic and social situation, but in Puerto Rico teachers haven’t been treated fairly. For years we have been left behind and denied Social Security, as other professionals have seen improvements to their working conditions, salaries and benefits. With the AFT, we can work hand in hand to improve our working conditions and reclaim all that has been denied to us. In the end, the education system will only improve when teachers are treated as the professionals we are.”
AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “An attack on teachers anywhere is an attack on teachers everywhere. AMPR has been battling against austerity and privatization in Puerto Rico and the everyday consequences for the island’s people. With this affiliation, the 1.6 million members of the AFT join in that fight.
“The people of Puerto Rico didn’t cause this crisis, but they’re forced to shoulder most of the burden because of the actions of hedge funders and irresponsible government deals. The toll has been severe—nearly 60 percent of Puerto Rican children now live in poverty, a rate three times as high as the mainland.
“Our shared values—a strong and equitable economy, great public schools, good healthcare, a strong and vibrant democracy, and the elimination of hate and bigotry—drove us to form this partnership, and we will harness those values to mobilize our members to win.”
Grichelle Toledo, Secretary-General of AMPR-Local Sindical, said: “We believe that this is a great opportunity to join our voices with the voices of 1.6 million AFT members. Both active teachers and retirees will benefit from this affiliation, and we will have a stronger voice in education and politics on the mainland and in Puerto Rico.”
Evelyn DeJesus, a vice president of the AFT’s New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, said: “I’m a Nuyorican, born in New York with Puerto Rican heritage and roots. For me, this is a very emotional day, and I am honored and excited to be here in this moment in time. We’re here to support and give voice to the children and educators of Puerto Rico. I have been proud to work with AMPR on professional development and training, and we are committed to this partnership for the next three years.”
Prior to the agreement, the AFT and AMPR worked together for months to oppose the PROMESA control board’s attacks on public education and to expose the role of hedge funds in the crisis. Joint trainings have been held to improve communications and member engagement. Separately, the AFT has been assisting AMPR with Puerto Rico bankruptcy issues.
AMPR will be chartered as a state federation of the AFT, with AMPR-Local Sindical, the AMPR’s collective bargaining agent, chartered as an AFT local. The trial affiliation agreement is for three years.