The influential Suteba teachers union has been slapped with a 659-million-peso fine (equivalent to US$23 million) by the Labour Ministry of Buenos Aires province for breaching a compulsory conciliation order at the tail end of last year.
The fine comes with tensions already strained between the union and the provincial government, with the two sides no closer to a deal over wage adjustments in the wake of rising inflation.
Suteba, or the Unified Union of Education Workers of Buenos Aires, has some 66,000 members in the the most populated province of the country. On Monday and Tuesday, union workers walked out of schools across the province for a 48-hour strike – a measure echoed in six other provinces across the country.
A statement from the union, which is led by Roberto Baradel, denounced the fine as persecution, saying it was an attempt by Governor María Eugenia Vidal's administration to punish the union for standing up for workers' rights.
The Labour Ministry said the union was being punished for undertaking protest action during negotiations over wage adjustments at the end of last year. Officials said Suteba would pay the fine, whether it was their own decision or the courts.
"The fine is 659.7 million pesos and if they do not pay, we will appeal to the courts," provincial Labour Minister Marcelo Villegas told the TN news channel.
He said Governor Vidal was planning to use the money brought in from the fine to improve kindergartens in Buenos Aires province.
"It's a squeeze, an extortion," Baradel responded. "This is what dictatorships or authoritarian governments do: remove personalities, apply millions in fines or intervene in unions, the objective is to dismantle workers' demands."