From: Frank Griffiths, Associated Press
Published October 8, 2004 12:00 AM

Puerto Rico Water Authority Strike Blamed for Service Loss to 20,000 Customers

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — More than 20,000 customers did not have water Thursday because of a strike by water authority workers, while the FBI said that at least two criminal acts against water facilities have been brought to their attention, officials said.

More than 4,000 Aqueduct and Sewer Authority workers have been striking since Monday in a dispute over a medical insurance plan. There have been no negotiations since the strike began.

Nearly 130 schools were without water throughout the U.S. Caribbean territory, the Education Department said, but it was not immediately clear if there were any closures Thursday. At least three schools did not have classes Wednesday, and many others had a half day or an irregular schedule.

At least three water plants have been shut down because of the strike because there aren't enough employees to cover them, said Iris Cintron, a spokeswoman for the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority. Most of the affected customers are in the north and southwest of the island, she said.

Water authority employees have formed human chains in roadways in an attempt to block chlorine trucks and strikebreakers from entering plants. No arrests have been made, police said, but photographs in El Nuevo Dia newspaper's Thursday edition show officers dragging workers off streets.

FBI spokesman Luis Feliciano declined to provide details on the alleged criminal acts against water facilities. Police were investigating, and once local authorities determine a criminal act or sabotage has been committed, the FBI would take over jurisdiction, he said.

The National Guard has been guarding key water installations since the strike began, said Army Sgt. Luis Orengo, a spokesman.

The Independent Authentic Union called the strike after a deadlock in negotiations over a union-run medical plan, which the water authority replaced with private insurance plan Triple-S.

The union plan was replaced after Puerto Rico's Insurance Commissioner's Office pointed out irregularities in its management.

Insurance Commissioner Dorelise Juarbe has ordered the union to return $11.7 million that she said was misused by the insurance plan's board of directors. Juarbe said that the money was used to underwrite salaries, purchase luxury vehicles for union officials, and for other excessive administrative charges.

Union officials have called on Gov. Sila Calderon to mediate, but she has called the strike unnecessary.

Source: Associated Press

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