June 15, 2021

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Unions express concerns regarding reopening of government agencies to the public

With less than a week to go before government agencies begin to receive audiences at their facilities, one of the main concerns of union leaders representing workers remains the lack of protocols, as well as the lack of security equipment that guarantees the health of employees and visitors.

"We are not ready even because this reopening was made in a hurry, apart from this, the proper precautions were not taken, the equipment was not purchased," said the president of the Local 481 / UFCW of the Central Federation of Workers (FCT), Antonio Cabán.

As of Monday, July 6, agencies could begin receiving public.

The FCT represents some 2,000 workers between the public and private sectors, including agencies such as the Department of Housing, Solid Waste and the Company. of National Parks (CPN).

“What we want is for the same requirements to be met, to comply with strict protocols so that these employees can work well and do not put their health at risk. We are not opposing that it be reopened, but that it be reopened in an orderly manner, "he noted.

He acknowledged that, although initially tests were carried out to detect COVID-19 between workers, this action must be carried out with some regularity. "At this point there are some employers who have complied with the protocols and equipment and there are others who are behind them," he said.

That is the case of the National Parks Company. For Cabán, one of the main concerns is the safety of the 21 lifeguards assigned to the unit, who not only lack the necessary equipment to carry out their work, but also the equipment they require to safeguard themselves from COVID-19, he denounced.

" Lifeguards do not have the equipment to guarantee their safety, to make a good rescue and they do not have uniforms. They tell them that they are going to bring him equipment and they are not taking them, ”said Cabán. Currently, the CPN reopened eight of its spas to the public.

Faced with the situation of parents who, probably, will not be able to return to their jobs in person due to the lack of care for their children, Cabán indicated that they have provided guidance to enroll in order to take advantage of the Family Medical Law provided by the Cares Act. "We have our lawyers available to offer legal guidance," he said.

Gerson Guzmán López president of the General Union de Trabajadores (UGT), a union with an enrollment of about 9,000 public servants through 13 agencies and seven corporations, pointed out that among workers there is a common factor and it is the fear of arriving at a work scenario that does not comply with the minimum health and safety requirements. He explained that in the conversations they have had with the employer, they have come across protocols that “barely meet the minimum requirements.”

“They aim to open the offices to begin crowding them with citizens and for us it creates a great concern seeing what it has happened in the United States where the wrong and irresponsible opening of services has caused an exponential increase in infections, "he said.

Like Cabán, he demanded that the COVID-19 test be administered to all employees.

"We are attending to the indications of the workers, for example, of areas that have been closed since the pandemic began and have opened without giving it proper disinfection and cleaning," he added.

He showed particular concern with the employees of the Department of Labor that would be stationed in the regional offices that the agency intends to open to serve unemployment applicants.

He warned that, although the The government has said that the public will be attended by appointment, it is afraid that the offices will be overcrowded due to the anxiety that permeates among those who have not been able to access help. "We have no doubt that people, due to the need and anxiety that exist, will appear without seeing any type of security," he said when expressing similar reservations with the Medicaid and WIC programs of the Department of Health that mainly serve people. elderly, children and pregnant women.

Freddyson Martínez, vice president of the PROSOL-UTIER Board, indicated that the main setbacks continue to confront them with various municipalities that resist complying with all health and safety rules. Despite the fact that some municipalities have corrected various of the failures after the complaints to the authorities, as was the case of Lajas and Arecibo, there are situations that persist in other administrations.

“Problems persist in the municipality of Guánica where as a result of the earthquake the workers had to relocate, but those areas where they were located, in many cases, did not comply with the distance and the daily screening of the workers. Work continues to give a little more direction to the matter, "he said.

As for the over 700 public employees they represent in agencies such as the Highway and Transportation Authority and the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP), Martínez indicated that the main difficulty that the directives of these have expressed to him is the identification of the necessary funds for the purchase of personal security equipment, since it was not budgeted in the current budget. "Conversations are taking place with the employer to establish the plans pursuant to the executive order … at the moment there has been good communication with the employer in this regard," he said.

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