Teamsters Refuse To Drive Supply Trucks in Puerto Rico?

This note added on October 2nd
Teamster Union

We have used “teamsters” on this page to denote truck drivers or camioneros of Puerto Rico. If you arrived here because you heard about the Teamsters affiliated with the New York local saying that truck drivers have NOT been refusing to deliver goods from the ports, it’s best to also visit our latest post after reading below.

Standing in front of what appears to be large palettes of relief goods, the mayor of the capital city of San Juan went on CNN to strongly insinuate that supplies have not been arriving to Puerto Rico. This is despite the fact that approximately 6,000 containers are sitting at the docks because of transport issues within the island.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Colonel Michael A. Valle, Commander of the 101st Air and Space Operations Group, and Director of the Joint Air Component Coordination Element, 1st Air Force, responsible for Hurricane Maria relief efforts, gave the following statement about the state of supplies on the island:

“The aid is getting to Puerto Rico. The problem is distribution. The federal government has sent us a lot of help… Moving those supplies — in particular, fuel — is the issue right now.

They have the generators, water, food, medicine, and fuel on the ground, yet the supplies are not moving across the island as quickly as they’re needed.

It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into. However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government.

Puerto Rico docks

As early as September 25, the Spanish-language press covering the islands has been reporting this situation.

“Nuestro terminal está lleno de contenedores… El problema que estamos observando es que no están llegando los camioneros a buscar la carga. Apenas se despacha el 10% …La gente tiene que buscar la carga para llegar a su destino final.”

A shipping terminal operator was quoted above as saying that their terminal is full of containers, but the truck drivers are not coming for the cargo.

Residents of Puerto Rico are abuzz on social media about unionized truck drivers refusing to distribute the supplies due to contract issues, with allegations that the teamsters are demanding at least $50 an hour and strongly dissuading “scabs” from going to work for FEMA. In a video, the leader of a driver group scoffs at the “gringitos” being able to come in and take over their jobs in their territory.

This story of the teamsters being on strike was reiterated in this September 27 post by Pedro Gonzalez on Facebook.

.…este Sr se llama Víctor Rodríguez, es el presidente del frente amplio de camioneros. Ha dado instrucciones para q ningún camionero saque vagones de los puertos y mucho menos gasolina en P.R. A ti Victor, te hacemos responsable por el caos próximo a suceder en la Isla por tus caprichos políticos en contra del Gobierno de turno. Eres un narco político, un vividor y buscon. Con la necesidad del Pueblo puertorriqueño no se juega, so CHARLATÁN!

Gente compartan esto para que llegue a todos los puertorriqueños fuera y dentro de la isla!!

Mr. Gonzales claims in this Spanish-language post that Victor Rodriguez has given instructions that no trucker should drive from the ports. Angry responses in the comments section of the post continue to be added today, with expletives being tossed around by understandably very upset island residents.

The name of the Puerto Rican Teamsters Union teamsters union is Frente Amplio de Camioneros, whose leader is Víctor Rodríguez, seen being interviewed below two days ago. (Strikethrough added on October 3 to change from capitalized to small letters. Visit latest post for explanation. – Ed.)

As seen below, the union has provided the rebuttal that it’s the diesel supply of which FEMA is in charge that’s the problem and that their truck drivers have been ready to drive all along. One can discern the skepticism on the face of the interviewer, who then brings up the fact that authorities have put out a call for independent non-union drivers to volunteer because of a lack of people willing to do the work.

That’s the point in the video after which Mr. Rodriguez bombastically started spouting curse words urging the people to pressure FEMA to release fuel and other supplies. By his side is the president of UTRA (Unión de Transporte y Ramas Anexas).

Puerto Ricans on social media are very critical. The top comment for this particular video is from a woman who says that no one is so ignorant to believe that FEMA is to blame for the mess. Others point out that the truckers are refusing to get in line for gasoline and are thus putting lives at risk.

Spanish-language source

In the comments section of this video above, there is discussion about the fact that the truckers don’t want to work without “safety assurance” because in all likelihood they will be held up by roving gangs of people desperate for diesel and gasoline. They want either additional danger pay and/or a police/military escort.

The danger of being held at gunpoint is not just exaggeration. Albert Gomez of South Florida Resilience Systems explains the law-and-order situation in San Juan in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

NPR: In Puerto Rico, Containers Full Of Goods Sit Undistributed At Ports

There is no formal declaration of a strike, but the Puerto Rican truckers’ leadership appears to be doing what they can to extract concessions in contract negotiations with the government.

In early August, the governor signed a law passed a few months before by the Puerto Rican senate that practically humiliated the truckers’ union; it’s now payback time as far as organized labor is concerned.

The law was one that loosened regulations for who can provide transport services. It was in effect a law that was passed to accommodate Uber and Lyft to the detriment of workers whose primary means of livelihood is professional driving. That legislative measure is known in Spanish as “el proyecto del Senado 525 que da paso a la Ley de Transformación Administrativa de la Comisión de Servicio Público” or simply “el Proyecto del Senado 525.”

That is why the union’s Mr. Rodriguez (currently being referred to on social media as “the old man” by Spanish speakers and “the toothless guy” by English speakers) is so very angry to the point of being accused of clinical insanity.

Above, he is vehemently blaming the governor for the impasse. The reporter tries to reason with him saying that the passage of the law is a thing in the past, and at this very moment, the island is faced with an emergency situation.

Mr. Rodriguez’s last sentence can be interpreted as a threat to paralyze trucking logistics on the island for two years if he (and the truckers he represents?) don’t get the respect of the governor. Or it could be that in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t thinking straight about what was coming out of his mouth.

Comments to this video:

Este hombre no es lo que representa a un boricua. En un momento por lo que esta pasando la isla no es para que este hombre salga con esta guaperia a retar al gobierno y parar las entregas mientras el pueblo perece de necesidades.

This man does not represent what a Puerto Rican is. In light of what is happening to the island, this is not the time to challenge the government.

Bochinchero y peligroso. Esa clase de actitud va a matar la gente. Ese señor es una verguenza.

That type of attitude will kill people. This man is a disgrace.

Is the obstinacy of the teamsters / truckers / camioneros what the president was referring to in this tweet?

President's Tweet

More details to be confirmed and added as they become available.

Latest post: Puerto Rico Teamsters… Who Controls Trucking on the Island?