Puerto Rico: Teachers Fight for Higher Wages

Teachers protest in San Juan on February 4. Image credit: Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco/Latino Rebels

On Feb. 4, more than five thousand teachers took to the streets in Puerto Rico to demand higher wages and no cuts to their pensions. According to some sources, 70% of teachers in Puerto Rico refused to work in recent days, and their fight is ongoing.

They united their voices in large demonstrations in the cities of San Juan, Mayaguez and Aguada. In the midst of the protests, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi demanded that the teachers return to work so as not to negatively affect the education of the students. He didn’t dare mention the dire conditions teachers face, or the lack of a living wage that makes the delivery of a decent education impossible. The protest came as a result of the total neglect suffered by teachers in Puerto Rico who often have to work two to three jobs to earn the bare minimum for a dignified life. Even those who hold PhDs earn less than enough to survive.

On top of that, Puerto Rican teachers have been forced to teach in classrooms that lack fans (on a tropical island) and proper paint. They often buy their own, and even paint their own classrooms. The situation has grown worse since Hurricane Maria in 2017, when many teachers were left having to teach in classrooms without a roof or even any classroom space at all. The conditions of the teachers in Puerto Rico are even worse than across the mainland U.S., where teachers have been fighting for Covid safety in schools, to prevent the defunding, closures, and privatization of public schools, and finally, for better wages and working conditions.

The Puerto Rican government has claimed to be on the side of student learning, and even promised a $1,000 increase of all public school teachers’ salaries. Nevertheless, this doesn’t bring them even close to a dignified wage. Protesters pledge to continue fighting until their needs are thoroughly addressed. These teachers are demonstrating that in order to make a real fight for decent education and working conditions, they have to become their own heroes.