Puerto Rico unions protest gov’t health care cuts

By Seth Galinsky
December 24, 2018
Puerto Rico unions protest gov’t health care cuts
Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano /Víctor Birriel

More than 1,000 members of public workers unions in the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico marched in San Juan Dec. 5 to oppose the slashing of government payments for medical insurance by some $350 a month. Workers — still reeling from the catastrophe of Hurricane Maria — will have to make up the difference.

“You can’t put a price tag on the health of workers and their families,” Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the electrical workers union, UTIER, told the crowd. The action was backed by the main union federations on the island.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló cynically says that the bite out of workers’ income can be “mitigated” if all the unions negotiate pricing with the insurance companies.

The latest attack on workers’ living standards is part of a package of measures, some imposed on the initiative of the Puerto Rican government headed by Rosselló, and others on the orders of the Financial Oversight and Management Board. The board was appointed by former President Barack Obama and vested with the authority to dictate economic policy in the U.S. colony.

The cuts are aimed at making workers pay for the capitalist economic crisis, to protect the profits of local and U.S. capitalists, and to maximize payments to bondholders on Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt.

The governor tried to portray himself as a friend of workers by paying government employees the traditional Christmas bonus — considered a part of workers’ annual income — despite opposition from the oversight board. But earlier in the year the Puerto Rico government slashed the bonus by two-thirds, and capped its maximum payout at $600. And it doubled the minimum number of work hours needed to qualify.