Government employees and thousands of public school teachers have rallied across the crisis-hit country in recent weeks, pressing for raises on salaries and better pensions.
Public employees have shut down streets in Puerto Rico’s capital to demand better pay and pensions.
The crowd shimmied and clapped as demonstrators held up signs reading, “Fair wages now!” on Friday, in a call that has echoed across Puerto Rico in recent weeks.
Government employees and supporters have taken to the streets, emboldened by thousands of public school teachers who abandoned classrooms in early February to demand raises and better pensions.
Protests have multiplied and the unrest is posing one of the biggest challenges for Governor Pedro Pierluisi a year into his term.
Most of the US territory's other public employees have not gotten pay raises in more than a decade — sometimes two — as the cost of living has risen and the island has suffered a lengthy economic crisis.
Power and water bills are nearly 60 percent higher in Puerto Rico than the US average, according to the island’s Institute of Statistics.
New compensation plan
Many public employees work one or two additional jobs to make ends meet.
Carlos Javier Vazquez, for one, is a paramedic in the mountain town of Barranquitas, and he also teaches emergency medicine and operates an ambulance company to help support his wife and four children.
It's a life that is exhausting and not sustainable, he said. But with paramedics in Puerto Rico earning a base salary of $1,725 a month, he said he has no choice.
“It’s extremely difficult to survive on that.”
In an attempt to quell the demonstrations, the governor promised teachers a $1,000 monthly increase just days after 70 percent of them walked out of their classrooms in protest earlier this month.
Shortly afterward, he promised a $500 monthly increase for firefighters and a 30 percent raise for paramedics.
Pierluisi’s actions only fanned anger among other government employees, with some demanding their own pay increases as others fumed over the governor’s recent comment that no one is forced to become a firefighter or police officer.
The governor has said a new compensation plan will go into effect next year and bring higher wages for thousands of public employees, yet he also says he won't be able to raise the pay of all public workers.