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Teachers, MTD Affiliates Helping Provide Clean Water to Puerto Rico


Several MTD-affiliated unions are working with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to bring badly needed water filtration systems in the wake of Hurricane Maria to the people of Puerto Rico.

Through the nonprofit Operation Agua, water filtration units of various sizes are being purchased in the United States and sent aboard U.S.-flag vessels to the island for distribution. MTD-affiliated American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and Seafarers International Union (SIU) are sponsors of this massive effort.

“AFT President Weingarten told us what her plan was for Operation Agua,” noted MTD Executive Board Member Augie Tellez of the SIU. “We knew the need was great and we saw a way that Jones Act U.S.-flag ships could further help alleviate the crisis. So we jumped right in.”

“Public service workers are tirelessly struggling to rebuild their communities throughout Puerto Rico,” stated AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “AFSCME is proud to join this effort and calls on Congress and the President to listen to the cries for help from their own citizens. The people of Puerto Rico cannot be left behind.”

Weingarten along with other AFT officers and staff have been working with their members in Puerto Rico looking for unique ways to provide help. They noticed that for many people the only water they had available came from polluted runoff or by gathering rainwater. Even those who may be fortunate enough to have running water face the concern that water treatment plants were damaged and aren’t functioning properly.

Nurses from AFT, AFSCME and other unions travelled to Puerto Rico shortly after the hurricane and became concerned not just about dehydration but also about the danger of waterborne illnesses coming from contaminated water.

Thus, Operation Agua was created. Working with sponsors like AFSCME, SIU and other organizations, the goal was to purchase and distribute 100,000 individual union-made Kohler water filtration systems for households and classrooms, and 50 large-capacity clean-water devices to a network of nonprofit organizations, union halls, schools and other community-based groups.

So far, the effort has raised nearly a $1 million. However, according to reports from the island, the need for assistance continues.

For more information regarding Operation Agua or to make a donation, go to .

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