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Standing with Puerto Rico

New York Teacher
Standing with Puerto Rico
Jonathan Fickies

Mary Cathryn Ricker, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers speaks at the protest as (front, from left) UFT Treasurer Mel Aaronson, Barr and Grichelle Toledo and Aida Diaz from the Puerto Rican teachers union look on.

As an unelected Fiscal Control Board met on March 13 to weigh imposing further austerity measures on Puerto Rico, U.S. labor leaders, including UFT officers, gathered with their Puerto Rican counterparts in front of the Alexander Hamilton Federal Building in lower Manhattan to demand that the board not sacrifice public schoolchildren and public-sector workers as it confronts the island’s more than $70 billion in public debt. “Puerto Rico’s children and working families should not have to shoulder the burden of the island’s debt crisis,” said UFT Assistant Secretary LeRoy Barr. The control board, appointed by the U.S. Congress in 2016, voted that day for an austerity plan that includes public-sector employee furloughs and further reductions in pension spending. Leaders of the Puerto Rican teachers’ union charged that the furloughs and reductions in the work week of educators would shorten the public school year by the equivalent of two months a year. “We are here supporting the teachers of Puerto Rico in the same way that we support the educators and children in Detroit, Philadelphia and other places where they have implemented austerity measures instead of investing in teaching and learning,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, the executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT’s national affiliate.