SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—A pathbreaking coalition of labor and business has joined together to distribute sorely needed tents and other essential supplies to assist Puerto Ricans struggling in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes that have rocked the island since December.
The first tranche of over 50 commercial tents and sidewalls provided by American Tent and hundreds of other emergency items will arrive in four Puerto Rico ports, transported by members of the Seafarers International Union and aboard vessels of shipping companies Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime, after the AFL-CIO Maritime Trades Department, Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a donation drive that has netted more than $50,000 so far.
As donations poured in following the largest and most damaging earthquake on Jan. 7, the partnership formed to collect and send assistance, supplies and materials, including first-aid kits, bottled water, water filters, solar-powered lights, medicines, batteries, generators, diapers, coolers, battery-powered fans, baby food, canned food, building materials, tarps and tents.
The tents and sidewalls, manufactured in America and provided by the Wisconsin-based company American Tent, will provide temporary classrooms for students and educators in some of the hardest-hit areas in the island’s south, where thousands of homes, schools and commercial buildings were destroyed and damaged. A majority of the 856 schools on the island remain closed due to concerns over structural damage and asbestos, and up to a fifth are considered structurally unsound.
On Jan. 21, AFT President Randi Weingarten traveled to Guánica to witness the devastation firsthand. AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus has also made several trips to the island.
AFT President Randi Weingarten said:
“It is frankly unimaginable for a community to have to confront two natural disasters on top of an economic catastrophe, but that is exactly what the people of Puerto Rico have confronted since 2017: Hurricane Maria, the earthquakes, a predatory Wall Street seeking to ensure its bondholders’ interests go before the people’s, and a noncaring president. It’s our moral duty as the affiliate of Puerto Rico’s teachers to help; to come together to help our fellow American citizens.
“That’s why we are spearheading this work to erect temporary classrooms for the students and teachers whose schools are not safe. The generosity of thousands of donors has enabled us to work hand in hand to find ways to help communities get their kids back to school and get them back on their feet. The true measure of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable, and only by coming together can we begin to repair the damage and build resilience. The earthquakes wreaked havoc, but they couldn’t shake the courage and the spirit of the people of Puerto Rico.”
AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus said:
“The children of Puerto Rico crave a return to their daily lives. Opening schools is a critical step to provide them with the normalcy that they need and deserve.”
American Tent CEO Tony Ehrbar said:
“At the core of American Tent’s values is a commitment to doing the right thing. We were very pleased to get this opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and to help our fellow Americans in a time of great need.”
Seafarers International Union President Michael Sacco said:
“This is a team effort, and the SIU is proud to be part of it. We are in this for the long haul, and we’re committed to helping our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”
Crowley Maritime Vice President of Labor Relations Ira Douglas said:
“Crowley is proud and honored to collaborate with our longtime labor partners and fellow shipping companies to deliver these much-needed supplies to our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico. As the longest-serving U.S. shipper for Puerto Rico, Crowley, alongside our allies, stepped up to help those in need on the island. By pooling our resources and working together, we can help Puerto Rico recover.”
AFSCME President Lee Saunders said:
“The thousands of members of Servidores Publicos Unidos de Puerto Rico (SPUPR), AFSCME Council 95, have been working tirelessly to rebuild and heal Puerto Rico’s communities amid unthinkable disaster. They too face displacement from their homes, vast power outages and the threat of disease. For their commitment to Puerto Rico at this trying time, they deserve respect and support. We are proud to join this partnership with other committed unions and businesses to continue mobilizing and expanding the amount of resources that we can offer to help the people of Puerto Rico.”
TOTE Maritime said:
“Puerto Ricans are still recovering from 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria, and many building roofs still have telltale blue tarps, as reconstruction has repeatedly stalled. The AFT and AMPR launched Operation Aqua, which raised over $2 million and distributed over 100,000 water filters.”
Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico President Elba Aponte Santos said:
“This has been a devastating three years for all Puerto Ricans, and the experience has drained the social and emotional well-being of students and educators. It is incumbent on unions and business to join together to help. We will not rest until all of our communities have recovered and secured the supplies they so desperately need.”