Albino Vargas: The Face Behind The National Strike

The leader of one of the most powerful trade unions in the country is a clerk on leave since January 1990, to dedicate himself full-time to unionism. He cannot be fired or replaced and can go back to his job anytime, though he hasn't been there for 28 years and 8 months


A leave without pay granted to Albino Vargas on January 15, 1990, has allowed this public employee to remain in his career as general secretary of the Asociación Nacional de Empleados Públicos (ANEP) – National Association of Public Employees – without the possibility of removing him from the position or fill it with another person.

Albino Vargas

The leave was granted by the Ministerio de Justicia (Ministry of Justice), where Vargas began working as a clerk (Oficinista) in 1981.

At the time he was granted the leave his monthly salary was ¢23,710 colones monthly. The exchange rate in 1983 (the farthest back the Central Bank will go) was ¢45 to one US dollar. The exchange rate today is ¢580.


Currently, the monthly salary of an Oficinista under the Civil Service scales, is ¢322, 000 colones.

This September 15, Vargas will have spent 28 years and 8 months at a government job without performing the tasks for which he was hired for.

The leader of one of the most powerful trade unions in the country is a clerk on leave since January 1990, to dedicate himself full-time to unionism.

But Vargas, as leader of one of the largest public sector unions, earns much, much more than he would at his job in the government.

The last time Vargas spoke openly about his salary was four years ago. Then he confessed that his monthly salary was of ¢1,600,000. A query made by separately indicates that Vargas earns more than ¢2,200,000 per month. This money does not come from the Ministerio de Justicia, but is paid by the union.

Because they are covered by regulations such as the Labor Code and the International Labor Organization (ILO), any official who is a union member receives special protection that protects him from being fired for his union membership.

This means that although Albino Vargas has 344 months without officially being at to work at his job as a clerk at Justicia, they cannot fire him for that, nor replace him because Vargas could legally reoccupy his position whenever he chooses to.

A neighbor of Alajuelita, in a house, inherited from his parents, this 62-year-old public official with no children or registered marriages has managed to remain at the peak of union representation in Costa Rica.

albino vargas cannot be fired or replaced from his job as a clerk and can go back anytime, though he hasn’t been there for 28 years and 8 months

How has he managed to remain for so many years in union power?

His detractors are harsh and point to alleged “dictatorial practices” in the ANEP elections to prevent another person from taking office.

In 2011 there was a serious attempt. Laura Morúa, representative of the Partido de los Trabajadores (Workers’ Party), two years earlier was elected to the union’s board of directors and quickly proposed the option of a replacement.

“Internally there was an undemocratic struggle, there was no freedom of expression, of disagreeing with the leadership, there was no possibility of accessing the documentation of the union,” Morúa told CRHoy, recalling that again in 2015 there was a second attempt on her part to take over the union leadership. Two years later Vargas was re-elected without opponents.

“They modified the statutes so that the periods of administration increased from two to four years, and eliminated the proportionality representation in the board of directors. Before all of us could obtain positions and now if he wins even by one vote he is the one who governs the union,” added Morúa, who faced a lawsuit for alleged defamation by Vargas when she was a candidate for the union leadership.

Morúa did not achieve her goal and Vargas remains at the head of the union until at least 2021 when there will be a new election; However, she questions the same as some political sectors that think that Albino Vargas is disengaged from the bases and someone else should prepare the strikes because “there is wear”.

In the current conjuncture of fiscal discussion, the Partido Acción Ciudadana (PAC) set out to delegitimize the work of Albino Vargas. This despite the fact that it is the party that took a union representative to the Vice Presidency, Marvin Rodríguez, and in the past – during the Presidency of Laura Chinchilla – even joined ranks with the unions against tax reform.

On Monday, PAC legislator Enrique Sanchez pointed out Vargas being at the forefront of a strike created based on lies and misinformation, calling for a renewal to the trade union leadership.

“Costa Rica is not for this (strike) and the needs of a fiscal reform to clean up the finances and have a Solvent State are not for manipulations, they are not lies, to continue protecting privileges,” said Sanchez.

Is Albino’s time up?

Despite his stronghold on the union leadership, the recent conflict over the tax reform will undoubtedly determine if Albino Vargas wins or loses in image, which is relevant if he wants to continue in office.

Although there are still three years until the next election at the ANEP – the same time Costa Ricans choose a new president – in the eternal union-government pulse every victory or defeat in battles counts.

Source (in Spanihs):