A pathbreaking coalition of labor and businesses has joined together to deliver and distribute sorely needed tents and other essential supplies to assist Puerto Ricans with the resumption of classes on the island. The first tranche of over 50 commercial tents and sidewalls provided by American Tent and hundreds of other emergency items were delivered to Puerto Rico by members of the Seafarers International Union (SIU) and aboard vessels of shipping companies Crowley Maritime and TOTE Maritime, after the AFL-CIO, the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees launched a donation drive that has netted more than $50,000 so far.

“It is unimaginable for a community to have to confront two natural disasters on top of an economic catastrophe, but that is exactly what the people of Puerto Rico have confronted since 2017. It’s our moral duty as the affiliate of Puerto Rico’s teachers to help; to come together to help our fellow American citizens. That’s why we are spearheading this work to erect temporary classrooms for the students and teachers whose schools are not safe,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

“The children of Puerto Rico crave a return to their daily lives. Opening schools is a critical step to provide them with the normalcy that they need and deserve,” said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus. According to Elba Aponte, President of AMPR, “this has been a devastating three years for all Puerto Ricans, and the experience has drained the social and emotional wellbeing of students and educators. It is incumbent on unions and business to join together to help. We will not rest until all of our communities have recovered and secured the supplies they so desperately need,” Aponte said.

The tents and sidewalls, manufactured in the United States and provided by the Wisconsin-based company American Tent, will provide temporary classrooms for students and educators to continue the education process in some of the hardest-hit areas in the island’s south. American Tent CEO Tony Ehrbar said that “at the core of American Tent’s values is a commitment to doing the right thing. We were very pleased to get this opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico and to help our fellow Americans in a time of great need.”

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler said: “Working people have come together to help their brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico. This is the beginning of a long-term effort, and I can assure you that the labor movement will continue to assist with the relief efforts for as long as it takes. The labor movement is built out of solidarity. We look after each other, and we are here for each other. When disaster strikes, we will be there to help.”

Puerto Rico Secretary of Education, Eligio Hernández Pérez, said that the Department of Education and the school communities of the municipalities under the emergency zone are grateful to the AFT and the AMPR because they are allies in this process.
“Likewise, I appreciate the support of the Presidents of these labor unions, Randi Weingarten and Elba Aponte, who have collaborated since the first day in the response to our students, teachers and school personnel. The donated equipment and materials will go directly to the educational centers in the six southern municipalities affected by the earthquakes. Once again, we demonstrate that teamwork produces results.” concluded Hernández Pérez.

The coalition also collected and sent assistance, supplies and materials, including first-aid kits, bottled water, water filters, solar-powered lights, medicines, batteries, generators, diapers, coolers, battery-powered fans, baby food, canned food, building materials, tarps and tents. ■