The Puerto Rico Workers Federation, AFL-CIO, headed a group of about 35 unions who met with Gov. Wanda Vázquez and administration officials to present a list of suggestions to “ensure the health and safety of all workers” as the island’s economy reopens amid the COVID-19 health crisis.
During a meeting at the Puerto Rico Convention Center, the labor unions asked the government to require, by executive order, all employers “to have the highest measures and personal protective equipment for workers who are on the front line.”
That includes health professionals and hospital workers, supermarket and business employees and suppliers, police and security guards, maintenance employees and the rest of the employees who are obliged to serve during the health emergency and those who join the reopening process.
As a result of the meeting, measures will be taken that promote compliance with on-the-job health and safety measures, the activation of Health and Safety Committees, coordination of tests for employees who may be exposed to the coronavirus, and improve communication between employers and unions, among other alternatives.
The labor groups, which represented a broad section of public and private sector workers, asked for:
- Participation in finding solutions on the path toward “reopening and normalizing” the island;
- The designation of exclusive representatives to act as liaisons between agency heads and workers when providing and negotiating security measures and protocols;
- Conducting molecular tests to detect COVID-19 on all active government workers;
- Stricter oversight of the plans to control and manage exposure to COVID-19; and,
- “Enough and adequate” personal protection equipment for workers.
The labor representatives suggested using CARES Act funds assigned for discretional expenses. They also asked that the Puerto Rico Labor Department recruit staff to strengthen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and guarantee legal requirements associated with COVID-19 provisions.
During the meeting, the labor groups also asked for the “immediate disbursement of unemployment benefits to thousands of workers. We will accept no more excuses.” They also asked for time-and-a-half hourly pay to public sector workers required to work during the emergency.
“Teamwork with the labor movement will certainly allow us a safe return to the work environment, guaranteeing the provision of services in the government and economic activity in the private sector,” said Vázquez.