SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico's government announced Friday that it will lay off more than 16,000 public workers in the U.S. Caribbean territory, adding to an unemployment rate higher than that of any U.S state.
The government hopes the layoffs will help close a $3.2 billion deficit. The island is struggling through its third year of recession and a 15 percent unemployment rate.
The layoffs of 16,470 employees are needed to prevent the government from shutting down and sinking the island's credit, said Carlos Garcia, president of the Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico.
Jose Rodriguez Baez, president of a union that represents about a third of the island's 200,000 public employees, said that protests are planned.
Rey Rosario, a 34-year-old teacher, argued the layoffs will only worsen the economic crisis.
"This will have a domino effect on the economy because with less income there is less consumption," he said. "This is an insensitive act, and layoffs should always be the last alternative."
Some 8,000 workers were already fired in May, and it is unclear whether more layoffs are planned.