Fat-Cat Unions Get No Sympathy from Costa Ricans

Labor Strikes across Costa Rica backfire on unions (La Prensa)
Recent labor strikes throughout Costa Rica have backfired on trade unions. (La Prensa)

EspañolOn Sunday, October 25, Sitrapequia, the labor union representing the Costa Rican energy conglomerate, Costa Rican Oil Refinery (RECOPE), made it clear that it would do everything possible to prevent the sale of fuel at RECOPE the following business day.

The announcement, in tandem with other labor union strikes on October 26, occurred after a series of public demonstrations — which drew record crowds — were made against the energy monopoly and, more generally, against unions.

Another protagonist in Monday’s labor strike was Sintrjap, who, on behalf of the Costa Rican Port Authority (JAPDEVA), announced they would close their loading docks as a form of protest, among other things, against the raid of APM Terminals in Costa Rica. The announcement raised significant concerns about the extended repercussions associated with a labor strike at the country’s ports.

Yet another sign of the times in Costa Rica was the recent actions of the University of Costa Rica’s trade union. The collective-bargaining group has refused to modify its outrageous payment of annuities, which, in addition to burdening public finances, has culminated in halting investment projects for students.

And, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the large number of bureaucrats at the Costa Rican Bank of Social Security, who announced they too would participate in the labor strike despite the detriment caused to its customers.

Who summoned this strike? A group named Patria Justa.

Despite recently criticizing the Patria Justa group, well-known union bosses Fabio Chávez and Albino Vergas of the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity and the National Association of Public Employees, respectively, also participated in the strike.

Many in the region are surprised by the trade union’s poor reputation in Costa Rica, which is why it’s important to understand some important details:

  • The growing discontent towards the privileged class in the public sector triggered by Libertarian Movement leader Otto Guevara Guth’s decision to publicize the list of officials working on behalf of these public entities, and the disproportionate amount of benefits provided.
  • The blockage of streets has increased the disapproval for the benefits.
  • The uncovering of ridiculous clauses of benefits within the collective-bargaining agreements.
  • The high costs of living and exorbitant fiscal deficit.
  • In relation to the last data point, it should be noted that President Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera approved a 2015 budget that increased 19 percent over the previous year. The increase attributed to public employment was also notoriously high.

The disapproval of union leaders goes well beyond the government halls of San José. Initially, the discontent came from the Libertarian Movement party, led by legislators Guevara Guth and Natalia Díaz. However, once the list of excessive benefits was released, multiple civic groups started to take on the crusade against government abuses.

Realizing the reality of the public’s discontent, other opposition groups joined the libertarians’ march toward approving a law of public employment, which calls for the president to denounce the collective-bargaining agreements and shake up the monopoly of RECOPE, and even the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity.

Since it’s the responsibility of Congress to represent the citizens that voted them into the legislature, one would hope that politicians, including the president, understand the overall indignation cannot be overlooked.

For the first time, Costa Rica is fed up with the union movement, something that without doubt is the result of two clear phenomena: the short-sighted strategy of the labor bosses; and the valiant and effective strategy by those exposing the abusive conduct of the same.

The turn to the “left” made by Costa Rica in 2014 doesn’t clear up the 2016 election picture, much less 2018, which forces the president to rethink his strategy if he wants to regain credibility.

Lastly, it will be interesting to see if the trade unions reassess their actions, or if they continue nurturing the public’s widespread hate that no doubt threatens the stability of their labor conquests. The strike of October 26 seemed like a strategic error that makes it difficult for labor unions to justify.

Translated by Scott Myers.

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