For many PREPA workers, utility’s transition marked by ‘humiliating’ treatment

By The Star Staff

In emotional testimonies Wednesday before a House committee, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) workers denounced the “humiliating and degrading manner” in which the power utility has treated them as it paves the way for LUMA Energy to take over its transmission and distribution system.

Linemen with more than 15 years of experience in most cases tried to hold back tears after they were informed by PREPA that they would be transferred to other agencies to perform other types of work excluding what they were trained for. The STAR has reported that some PREPA workers who received transfer letters on April 30 were sent to work at other jobs that are nonexistent. Others were assigned work for which they are unqualified.

“They are killing us inside. I cry, at night I can’t sleep, I worry,” said Héctor Torres Santaella, a category 4 lineman at the Monacillos Power Plant in Río Piedras with some 27 years of service. “They didn’t think of us. They are discarding us after many years of service, of being the first face of the Authority that people see.”

Torres Santaella and Iván Acevedo Fernández, from the Bayamón Office, as well as other technical and clerical employees of PREPA, spoke at a House Energy Committee hearing chaired by Rep. Luis Raúl Torres.

The 50-year-old Torres Santaella said he was informed that he will be working as a security guard for the Medical Services Administration

“No one is being sensitive to us,” he said. “I live with an 89-year-old aunt and I can’t figure out how to tell her. I have two teenage children who call me every day and since I received this damned letter my left eye and lip are shaking from stress. The Employee Assistance Office is closed. They set us adrift.”

He also said he worries about how he will be welcomed by his new employer since his colleagues will be making less in the positions to which they have been transferred. Category 4 linemen make $20 per hour, or close to $40,000 per year.

Acevedo Fernández said PREPA workers were sad and demoralized because after giving an entire life to the utility and to public service, and working long hours in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the government and the power utility is tossing them aside.

The workers said they should not be blamed for the mismanagement of PREPA.

Torres, the committee chairman noted that while the highest-paid linemen in PREPA make $20 per hour, PREPA paid close to $300 per hour to linemen from Whitefish Energy and Cobra who came to work for Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricanes and “stayed in comfortable hotels.”

Carmelo Ortega has also served as a lineman for 20 years and was transferred to the Medical Center in San Juan as an associate nurse.

“I studied nursing 20 years ago, but I have never practiced it,” he said. “Right now, I don’t have a license, I don’t have continuous classes, or college or anything. The license has been expired since 1998. I am hoping to God that this can be resolved.”

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