Yesterday, CBS News reported that “food, water and medicine were just sitting at the port [ in San Juan, Puerto Rico] waiting to be delivered” but there were no truck drivers to deliver the resources. (1)
Today, a Morovis, PR Facebook page posted a photo of a trucker refusing to deliver fuel and supplies to people on the island. The page claims the man is Victor Rodriguez, the "President of a shipping union" in Puerto Rico. The photo caption indicated that Rodriguez instructed his men not to provide assistance. It is believed the dispute arose because the union was not contracted to provide Hurricane Irma relief earlier this month.
Past coverage of trucking unions' tenuous relationship with the government indicates that strikes have been an ongoing problem on the island.
In July 2005, Workers.org reported one of many public union-government conflicts in San Juan involving the strain skyrocketing fuel prices placed on the trucking industry. In that conflict, it was reported the government resorted to the used of high-tech police helicopters in an attempt to identify strikers blocking access to ports. In that article, trucking union leader Victor Rodríguez was quoted as saying on behalf of fellow strikers, “’we cannot be obligated to work. ... We will not permit the National Guard to remove our trucks. ... We have a democratic right to free speech and assembly. ... We are not blocking anyone´s access to the docks, and we are declaring ourselves in permanent assembly. ... Does the government want a civil war?’”(2)
In November 2005, Trucking Industry News reported an incident involving a trucking union leader holding a similar protest due to "’the neoliberal policies’ of business leaders seeking … reduced tariffs.”(3)
If this is true, it raises questions as to the ongoing issues affecting the local governments ability to deliver critical assistance to those in need, as well as the foreseeability that a trucker’s strike would recur when Puerto Rico’s citizens were at their most vulnerable. If a protest was likely to occur, could something have been done to prevent the delay? Was the federal government informed of potential risks union disputes would place on the reliability of transportation?
Adding to these concerns are fuel shortages that threaten the lives of sick and elderly people in Puerto Rico hospitals relying on gas generators, and access to a reliable means of resource distribution is critical to public safety.
(1) CBS Evening News (https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/delivering-supplies-to-people-in-need-close-to-impossible-in-puerto-rico/) September 27, 2017
(2) Truck drivers’ strike, force gas stations to close. Soto, Tom. (https://www.workers.org/2005/world/puerto-rico-0804/ ) July 26, 2005.
(3) Truckers Protest Plan to Reduce Government-Set Tariffs in Puerto Rico. (https://clients.layover.com/news/article/truckers-protest-plan-to-reduce-government-set-tar-8911.html) November 3, 2005