This May Day we stand in solidarity with the thousands of workers who became unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 emergency in Puerto Rico and who have also been disappointed and defenseless by the government's uncoordinated and inefficient lines of action regarding the management and distribution of relief funds.
Sadly, the suffering of the unemployed Puerto Ricans is also an example of the general lack of adjustment in the government´s direction. As of early April, the government had received more than 130,000 new unemployment insurance claims. Meanwhile, economic estimates project that more than 369,000 jobs are at risk as a result of the economic disruption associated with the pandemic. These numbers represent lives and families urgently awaiting solutions more than 45 days after curfew.
For these workers, the lack of reliable data on the real picture of the coronavirus on the island is a source of uncertainty and unease at a time when public authorities are considering the gradual reopening of economic activities. They share this feeling with thousands of men and women who are on the front lines of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in hospitals and the food supply chains and other essential services.
Thousands of health workers have been laid off due to reductions in patient visits and procedures not associated with the virus, and it´s not clear under what circumstances they will return to work. Some have been forced to migrate to support their families, even if this means risking their lives.
Meanwhile, other employees, cashiers, janitors, serve in supermarkets, gas stations, and prepared food businesses, among others. These workers deserve our deepest gratitude every day because their efforts have prevented the collapse of the food distribution chain and other services that are essential for all those who are staying at home.
While management deficiencies from the top of the government exacerbate the precariousness of private-sector workers, they have wasted the valuable contributions that hundreds of thousands of public workers who today remain at home, receiving their wages, despite the urgent need for services such as those provided by the Education, Health, Family and Work, and Human Resources Departments. It is a management responsibility to distribute adequate resources where they are most needed. The State refused to use that capacity by sending them all home, causing an unnecessary obstacle in services.
The lack of a coherent response led to ignoring the commitment of teachers who did their best to continue working with their students over the past weeks and even before when the earthquakes hit the island. Closing the semester without even considering students' achievement is demoralizing for teachers.
The same happened with career employees in the health care system, who have been relegated from critical processes of pandemic response, such as equipment purchases, test administration, and the design of the much-needed testing and contact tracing system. They could have contributed their expertise and commitment to public service.
Not even the most specialized employees in the Department of Labor and Human Resources systems had the opportunity to contribute their know-how when they are most needed in the face of a predictable surge in demand.
In addition to the lack of direction that has wreaked havoc on this public health emergency, there are shadows over the health care responses that prevent the island from having a light on the most appropriate and safe plan to reactivate activities.
On this International Workers' Day, our thanks go to those who are working against all odds and to those who, unable to do so because of the emergency, are waiting for recognition for their contribution to Puerto Rico in the form of the assistance that they are entitled to as taxpayers.