Puerto Rico dock workers to end strike as goods accumulate

Dock workers who launched a strike that prevented thousands of shipping containers with items including food and medicine from reaching Puerto Rico in recent weeks have reached a tentative agreement with their employer

Many in the U.S. territory were relieved at the announcement, given the island’s huge dependence on imports. However, concerns remain since the deal between Puerto Rico’s Union of Dock Workers and stowage company Luis Ayala Colón Sucres, Inc. is in place for only 45 days.

The strike had prevented some 4,500 shipping containers and 13 boats from reaching Puerto Rico and another 5,000 containers from leaving the island. It also prompted the U.S. territory’s government to file a lawsuit on Monday against union workers and the company known as LAC, which handles 80% of all international cargo entering the Port of San Juan.

“The situation has reached a breaking point,” Puerto Rico’s Ports Authority said in the lawsuit.

It is seeking a permanent injunction ordering that those sued meet their responsibilities, noting that it has been unable to collect more than $400,000 in fees and tariffs.

Noelia García, the government’s chief of staff, said the lawsuit will be withdrawn only when the deal between dock workers and the stowage company is final. She also hinted that government officials might look into contracting other companies to avoid a repeat.

“Diversity is healthy,” she said. “We’re going to take proactive measures to ensure this won’t happen again.”

García declined to provide more details.

Hernán Ayala, vice president of the stowage company, said there are no plans to prioritize items.

“We’ll empty the ships as they arrive,” he said. “This will be done as quickly as possible.”

The workers were striking in part because they said the company had given workshop tasks to managers.

While the strike did not cause severe shortages of life-saving items, the Association of Hospitals of Puerto Rico issued a statement Tuesday warning that supplies of certain medical equipment would run out in two to six weeks as the island faces a spike in COVID-19 cases it blames on the delta variant.

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