RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Two of Brazil's biggest unions refused an invitation to meet with acting President Michel Temer on Monday, underscoring the challenges facing the interim leader of Latin America's largest nation amid a divisive impeachment process. Four other unions sent representatives to meet with Temer in Brasilia.
Temer, who had been vice president, took over the presidential powers last week after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached by the Senate and suspended for allegedly employing accounting tricks to hide gaping deficits in the federal budget.
Rousseff has said she has done nothing wrong and will fight during a Senate trial to take place within six months. Temer will be president while that process takes place, and he will finish Rousseff's term that runs through 2018 if she is convicted and permanently removed.
Just a few days into his job, Temer is coming under sharp criticism for his Cabinet choices, his ideas about reforming the pension system and a proposal to raise taxes to shore up the budget.
The goal of Monday's meeting was to build consensus around reforming Brazil's generous pension system, something that analysts say is necessary to begin pulling Brazil from its worst recession since the 1930s. In Brazil, many public workers can retire by their early 50s.
The Central Workers Union, the largest in the country and deeply connected to Rousseff's Workers' Party, did not attend. The union "won't recognize putschists as governors," it said in a statement that also demanded Rousseff's reinstatement. The third largest union, Central of Workers of Brazil, also rebuffed Temer.
Combined, the two unions cover about 42 percent of the nation's 9 million unionized workers, according to the Labor Ministry. The four that did meet with Temer represent about 35 percent of unionized workers.
Deputy Paulo Pereira da Silva, head of the union Forca Sindical, which did attend, said the participants agreed to create a task force to discuss pension reform over the next month.
The no-shows underscored the possibility of strikes in the near future, said Barbara Castro, a labor specialist and political science professor at the University of Campinas.
"This shows that more problems are coming," Castro told The Associated Press, adding that "today was a dress rehearsal."
That wasn't the only rough spot for Temer on Monday.
The new justice minister gave an interview to the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo suggesting Temer shouldn't pick his chief prosecutor from a list compiled by fellow prosecutors.
Doing it that way allows for legal independence because the president can't just put in somebody who will do his bidding, and the suggestion drew a firestorm of criticism. Temer's press office later told TV Globo that the acting president was not going to follow his minister's advice.
Over the weekend, Temer was criticized by business leaders angry about the finance minister's suggestion of new taxes in the near future. Temer was also criticized by several South American leaders who said they won't accept him as Brazil's president.
In an interview with Globo Sunday night, Temer sought to answer critics. Speaking about his Cabinet of all white men, he said he wanted to bring people from the "the feminine world" into his government, a comment that raised hackles on social media sites.
As Temer spoke, people in many major cities banged pots, a protest tactic in Brazil aimed at drowning out television sets broadcasting somebody they disagree with.
By late Monday, Temer had chosen a woman to take an important role in his administration. Economist Maria Silva Bastos Marques will be the president of Brazil's investment bank, BNDES, Folha de S. Paulo reported.
"The first signs (of the new government) are not encouraging. An all-male, all-white Cabinet, a series of decisions he reverses in a few hours," Carlos Eduardo Lins da Silva from the São Paulo Research Foundation said during a round table discussion on Brazil at the Wilson Center in Washington. "The question is, do we have another option right now?"