Executive branch bends slightly to union demands

The general strike no one wants has been put off for at least 15 days.

Leaders of public employee unions met with representatives of the executive branch Monday and found that officials would not budge on a 5,000-colon across the board pay raise. The union leaders want at least 4.18 percent.

Casa Presidencial released a statement after the meeting. The session was a follow up to one a week ago that resulted in the union rank-and-file rejecting a tentative accord.

The statement showed the central government has given a little ground. The statement said that the executive branch would replace the decree that mandated the 5,000-colon raise that would make some administrative adjustments union leaders wanted. But there was no movement backwards on the raise itself.

The government also said that it would put out for analysis a proposed law on public employees before submitting it to the Asamblea Legislativa.

President Laura Chinchilla was not at the meeting. The summary of the meeting was signed by Ricardo Carlos Benavides, the minister of the Presidencia, and Sandra Piszk, the minister of Trabajo. However, the statement said that the government had agreed to two more points. The union representatives had asked to meet with the president, and that request was granted. In addition, the government agreed not to dock the salaries of union members who participated in two protests last month.

No date was specified for a meeting with the president. Union leaders will use the 15 days to consult further with their members.

The executive branch is in a corner because there is no money for raises. In fact, the money to pay the 5,000 colons to each public employee will have to be borrowed. A prolonged general strike could wreck the economy because exports would be stopped as well as schooling.

Union leaders may have trouble selling a prolonged strike to their members. If teachers walk out, they will face the anger of parents. Police officers from the various forces would cause a spike in crime if they struck, based on experiences in other countries. The result would be a public relations disaster for the unions.

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