The UFT and the AFT are always ready to help when disaster strikes.
One year ago, on Sept. 20, Hurricane Maria thrashed Puerto Rico. Nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans were killed during the storm and in its aftermath. Homes, businesses and schools were severely damaged, roads were washed out, the electrical grid was destroyed and safe drinking water was nonexistent.
The AFT and the UFT quickly marshaled their forces. AFT President Randi Weingarten visited the island 12 times, working with the local teachers union, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, to help get schools ready to open. The UFT’s connection to the island is strong, given the many members and New York City students who have family there and the more than 2,000 displaced Puerto Rican children now enrolled in New York City public schools. UFT Vice President for Education Evelyn DeJesus visited the island 10 times, connecting people to services and helping families restore homes. Nicholas Cruz, the UFT’s Bronx parent liaison, spearheaded a collection drive of school supplies.
To provide clean drinking water on the island, the AFT and the UFT joined the Hispanic Federation and other community groups to launch Operation Agua. Labor and community groups raised $2 million and delivered 100,000 water filters to schools and communities. Every school on the island now has safe drinking water.
AFT nurses, including Federation of Nurses/UFT members, set up mobile pop-up clinics, helped the homebound, distributed water purification tablets, taught water safety and hand hygiene and offered medical screenings in the weeks following the hurricane.
But the crisis isn’t over. Puerto Rico was in fiscal collapse before Maria, and the hurricane has only made the path ahead much steeper. Thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled the island, with island school officials estimating more than 40,000 students have disappeared from the rolls. While 856 schools have reopened, 263 have permanently closed. And, as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, privatization forces have pushed for charter schools and vouchers.
We’ll continue to support our fellow U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico in their ongoing struggle to rebuild.