Spanish workers plan more protests in Rota
Stars and Stripes January 23, 2003
NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Spanish base workers demanding more take-home pay are heading back to the picket line.
Local national workers at the Rota Navy base are planning a series of unannounced strikes and demonstrations next month.
Union leaders and delegates in Rota voted Wednesday to resume the strikes to protest what they say is a lack of progress by both the U.S. and Spanish governments regarding a four-year labor dispute.
The strikes would come as the U.S. military continues a buildup in the Middle East in preparation for a possible showdown with Iraq. The Rota base — which has about 3,000 U.S. active-duty military personnel — is a major stopping point for cargo planes and ships en route to the Southwest Asia.
“We’re going to do whatever we can, talk to whoever we can, to get a solution,” said Rafael Chacón, secretary for the committee that represents the four labor unions on base.
Base workers have periodically held demonstrations outside the base gates since the Spanish government took away a long-standing tax incentive in 1999. However, local national employees have not held any demonstrations in the past nine months.
Workers plan to meet with regional leaders and government officials in Madrid in the next several weeks to plead their case, but union leaders seemed pessimistic that anything will be resolved soon.
After a new defense accord between the United States and Spain was signed last April, Spanish officials promised workers that a new joint committee would try and solve the labor issue within six months.
Union leaders say that nothing has changed.
“The Spanish government and the politicians?” Chacón said. “The only thing we get from them is lies.”
Base workers say taking away the tax incentive has resulted in a decrease in take-home pay of between 10 percent and 30 percent.
The U.S. government pays worker salaries, but local national employees technically work for the Spanish government.
State Department officials have said that the U.S. government cannot compensate workers for the money lost due to the tax change because local national employees already make the maximum allowed under a cap established by Congress.
Since the tax change, however, the U.S. Navy has tried to bridge the pay gap by reducing the workweek and offering no-interest loans. In 2000, the Navy dished out $5.3 million in loans to workers. In May, the Navy delayed payments on the loans until February, meaning employees will have to resume payments next month.