Today, the Governor’s office issued a press release trumpeting a “historic agreement” with leaders of unions whose member’s number 38,000. The agreement will allow the government to modify the collective bargaining agreements and lower employee benefits. The union members, however, have to ratify said agreement in order for it to be binding. It is likely, however, that it will be ratified.
Most of the employees in the Government of Puerto Rico, those not employed by public corporations, are covered by Law 45 of February 25, 1998 that allows collective bargaining but does not allow strikes. Hence, the unions whose leaders agreed to have their collective agreements impaired had little they could do to prevent impairment of their contracts as was done with their retirement fund. Hence, it is likely the agreement will be ratified by workers with nothing to fight with except the November 2016 vote.
On the other hand, the unions of PREPA, PRASA and AMA (Bus Authority) have been adamant that they will strike. The UITICE, one of PREPA’s unions, has already given a strike vote. The leaders of these unions are decidedly of Marxist, yes, Marxist inclination and cannot justify the payment of dues if they do not defend their very generous collective agreements. Hence, they will strike. In the 1970’s PREPA’s unions went on strike and several acts of sabotage were done against the corporations installations. Once, the body of a member of UTIER was found crush under one of its towers. Apparently he was downing it when it fell on him. If this happens, the Government could invoke 29 L.P.R.A. § 105 and override the usual prohibition of injunctions against striking. The law states inter alia:
“No court of Puerto Rico shall have jurisdiction to issue a temporary or permanent injunction in any case involving or growing out of a labor dispute, except after hearing the testimony of witnesses in open court (with opportunity for cross-examination) in support of the allegations of a complaint made under oath, and testimony in opposition thereto, if offered, and except after findings of fact by the court, to the effect:
(a) That acts of fraud or violence have been threatened and will be committed unless restrained, or said acts have been and will continue to be committed unless restrained; but no injunction or temporary restraining order shall be issued on account of any threat or act of fraud or violence, except against the person or persons or association or organization making the threat of committing the act of fraud or violence or actually authorizing the same after full knowledge thereof;
(b) that substantial and irreparable injury to complainant’s physical property will result;
(c) that as to each item of relief sought on each allegation greater injury will be inflicted upon the complainant by the denial of relief than will be inflicted upon the defendants by the granting of relief;
(d) that complainant has no other adequate remedy at law, and
(e) that the public officers charged with the duty to protect the property of the complainant are unable or unwilling to furnish adequate protection.”
The law has several other limitations but it does allow for a remedy under particular circumstances. The question is what will the Government do if the strikers do not sabotage anything but just let the equipment fall into disrepair? Time will tell.