SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Labor unions are calling for an island-wide strike and a march near the capital on Thursday to protest government layoffs in Puerto Rico, where more than 20,000 public employees have been dismissed as the island struggles to pull out of a three-year recession.
At least 100,000 protesters are expected to converge on Plaza las Americas, the Caribbean's largest shopping center, in the biggest of several demonstrations across the U.S. territory, according to organizers.
"A huge mass of people will paralyze the country," said Juan Vera, a spokesman for the coalition All of Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico.
The protests are a response to the layoffs ordered this year by Gov. Luis Fortuno to help close a $3.2 billion deficit. The government announced last month that nearly 17,000 people will be dismissed in the latest round of cuts.
The territory has a jobless rate of 15 percent – higher than any U.S. state – and analysts say it is certain to rise once the layoffs take effect in November.
Small protests have simmered peacefully for weeks but business owners were taking precautions against violence.
The 300-store mall in Hato Rey, outside San Juan, is planning to close for the day because of security concerns, spokeswoman Lorraine Vissepo told the local media. In the island's nearby banking district, employees were encouraged to work from home and office towers were putting storm shutters over windows on the ground floors Wednesday.
At least a dozen unions, representing public as well as private employees, were expected to join the one-day work stoppage.
The government, however, is expecting business as usual. All government agencies are planning to operate normal hours, Fortuno spokeswoman Anamari Caratini said. And education department spokesman Alan Obrador said schools will also be open.
Hotels are also planning on normal operations but are ready for any disruptions, said Clarissa Jimenez, president and CEO of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association.
"You never know what things can happen and they always have a Plan B," Jimenez said.
Associated Press writer Manuel Ernesto Rivera contributed to this report.