Ex-PREPA workers said in limbo because their new agencies can’t absorb them
By The Star Staff
Former Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) workers who were transferred to other agencies remain in a limbo, in part because some agencies do not have the money or equipment to absorb them, according to testimony at a hearing in the island House of Representatives on Monday.
The House Treasury and Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Jesús Santa Rodríguez, held a public hearing on the working conditions experienced by former PREPA workers who were transferred to other agencies after LUMA Energy took over the operations of the transmission and distribution system on June 1.
The workers left for other agencies to avoid losing benefits, including accumulated pensions. But their fate is still uncertain.
Officials from the Office of Administration and Transformation of Human Resources (OATRH by its Spanish initials), the Department of Transportation and Public Works, the Public Buildings Authority (AEP), the Department of Health and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) appeared at the hearing. After three months, PREPA’s employee mobilization plan has been widely questioned by affected personnel and receiving agencies. One of the main concerns that public corporations that have received former PREPA employees have expressed is their limited budgetary capacity for the added payroll.
In the public inquiry, the executive director of OMB, Juan Carlos Blanco Urrutia, reported that he still does not have the “incremental amount” to pay for the payroll corresponding to the mobility plan.
“Let it be known that this uncertainty in the budget is occurring despite the fact that this House of Representatives allocated a total of almost $90 million in the current budget with the objective of supporting this mobility process, a process that we have questioned since day one, stating that it was going to have an overwhelming effect on the staff of specialized employees who have served our country,” said Popular Democratic Party Rep. Luis Raúl Torres Cruz.
Blanco Urrutia stressed that the budget approved by the Legislature to ensure the payment of the payroll of the mobilized employees is in a reserve fund.
“It has not been used, because so far, we have managed to meet the payments through agency budgets,” he said.
AEP head Luis D. García Fraga said meanwhile that the OMB has told the agency that the money that will pay for the employees will be obtained.
“However, as of today we have no news or information on the funds or if they will be recurrent,” he said.
García Fraga also reported in a written presentation that at present, the AEP does not have the equipment, means of transportation, space or operational structure to absorb the workers.
Before the new workers were transferred to the AEP, the entity had a staff of 971 unionized and managerial employees. After the process of moving people from PREPA, the AEP staff increased to 1,569 employees. “Enabling the Authority to operate with this number of employees represents an additional estimated cost for this fiscal year of $62.5 million,” García Fraga said. “Employees transferred to the AEP represent an increase of approximately 62 percent. For mobility to be viable in operational terms, an investment in equipment, work tools and the renewal of the vehicle fleet is required.”
García Fraga insisted that he has employees without assigned functions due to the lack of safety equipment.
“If it does not have an allocation of funds from the OMB, [the AEP] will not be in a position to maintain the staff of PREPA employees,” he said.
House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez said his greatest concern is that the budgets of the agencies, which were already in a critical state, are being used to pay the payroll of employees who have come from PREPA.
“The money that should be used to fix our schools and address infrastructure problems is in the payroll of mobilized employees,” he said. “The House of Representatives assigned a budget to guarantee that payment without the need to affect the coffers of the agencies. The $90 million that was allocated in the budget must be used for the objectives that were legislated.”
For her part, OATRH Director Zahira A. Maldonado Molina said her agency has not handled the files of the PREPA employees transferred to other agencies.
“Our intervention has been to communicate to the employees to which agency they will move, and we have also notified the corporations about which employees should report to their dependency.”
“The information on the files of the personnel who were mobilized is held by the Electric Power Authority,” she added. “We have never had access to those documents.”