Puerto Rico Union Allegedly Refuses to Deliver US Aid, On Strike Because of Local Law

Head of relief effort says only 20 percent of drivers are showing up to work
By Joshua Philipp, The Epoch Times
October 1, 2017 8:48 pm Last Updated: October 2, 2017 10:27 am

Relief supplies given to San Juan, Puerto Rico, by the Trump administration are allegedly sitting at the ports, as truck drivers with a local union refuse to deliver the supplies. A local mayor and President Donald Trump have accused San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto of playing politics with the failures in the distribution of supplies.

A CNBC segment reported that 9,500 cargo containers with medicine, food, and other goods are stuck at the port of San Juan. It noted they need the local truck drivers to move the goods if they’re going to receive the next shipment of supplies currently on its way.

CNBC blamed failure to move the supplies on the inability of trucking companies to contact their drivers to get them to go to work and on a lack of fuel for the delivery trucks. Local media have reported a different reason: truck drivers with the Puerto Rican Teamsters Union, Frente Amplio, are allegedly refusing to move the supplies.

According to the local TV station WAPA, the strike is over a recently passed law: “el proyecto del Senado 525 que da paso a la Ley de Transformación Administrativa de la Comisión de Servicio Público,” also called “el Proyecto del Senado 525.”

The law caused a rift with unions by placing control and regulation of public transportation in Puerto Rico under the local Public Service Commission.

Colonel Michael A. Valle, director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts in the area, told Huffington Post, “The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution … Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports.”

Valle said the problem is “only 20 percent of the truck drivers show up to work.”

The International Teamsters Union published a notice on its website on Sept. 29 to recruit volunteer drivers from across the United States to help transport supplies in Puerto Rico. It states, “the labor movement is working on the ground in Puerto Rico to bring volunteers to meet specific needs.”

Cruz Soto, a Democrat, held a press conference where she told mainstream news outlets that the Trump administration was to blame for the lack of supplies. She quickly came under fire, however, as news of the delivery strike emerged, and because she gave her press conference while standing in front of pallets stacked with federal relief goods.

Cruz Soto was also criticized by other local officials. Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez Otero said that while other mayors have been joining meetings between, FEMA, U.S. military officials, and Puerto Rican leaders, Cruz Soto has been absent.

“I’ve seen other mayors participating. She’s not,” said Perez Otero, according to The Washington Examiner. He added that, contrary to Cruz Soto’s claims, “We are receiving a lot of help from FEMA and the Red Cross … there is lots of help coming to us.”

Cruz also said, regarding Cruz Soto’s criticism of the relief effort, “There is a lot of politics in Puerto Rico.”

Trump also called out Cruz Soto on Twitter. He noted on Sept. 30 that Cruz Soto had complimented his response to the Category 4 Hurricane only a few days prior, but had switched her stance.

Trump said poor leadership was to blame for local officials including Cruz Soto, “who are not able to get their workers to help.” He said they “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

He added, however, that for the more than 10,000 federal workers and troops his administration sent to help in Puerto Rico, “The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.”

Despite the criticisms from Democrats and several legacy news outlets, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has praised the Trump administration for its response to the disaster.

Trump thanked him again, stating on Twitter, “The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, is a great guy and leader who is really working hard. Thank you Ricky!” He also thanked Puerto Rico Congresswoman Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon, stating she has “been wonderful to deal with and a great representative of the people. Thank you!”