Governor asked LUMA CEO to curtail hiring of outside union labor for grid rebuild
By The Star Staff
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Thursday that he asked LUMA Energy CEO Wayne Stensby to find alternatives so that Puerto Rico’s contractors are not forced to hire workers affiliated with the United International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) to rebuild the power grid.
Members of the local chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America have complained that salary payment to these workers is much higher than the amounts they would have to pay to non-unionized workers.
LUMA Energy, the private operator of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s transmission and distribution system since June 1 as part of a public-private partnership (P3) contract, is the supervisor of all of the grid’s work and also has an agreement with the IBEW.
“What I indicated to you is that under the P3, LUMA is in charge of supervising the entire reconstruction of the electrical grid in Puerto Rico,” the governor said. “And LUMA has a collective bargaining agreement with the largest union in the electrical sector, which is the United International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. And LUMA already has that agreement. In other words, in the work in which LUMA is involved, well, yes, the agreement is complied with from the point of view of the pay received by the workers and the working conditions of the labor force.”
Local contractors have complained that payment agreements made by LUMA Energy with a union outside of Puerto Rico are at levels never seen before on the island. They note that a construction foreman earns $65 an hour.
“That’s what the contractors say,” Pierluisi said. “They tell me that it can distort the entire market in Puerto Rico, forcing all contractors to pay that type of salary to all of the workforce throughout the network.”
The governor said it would be in LUMA Energy’s best interest to reach an agreement with local contractors because it makes no sense to shut them out or bring in thousands of U.S. workers affiliated with the IBEW.
“What I said is that I had already brought that concern to Wayne Stensby, and I asked him to look for the possibility of exceptions, depending on the size of the project, the type of employees working on the project,” he said. “This has not ended.”
The governor said the government cannot intervene and must rely on the good faith of the LUMA Energy managers.
“I also have to say that I told the contractors that they have to remember that I have to defend our workforce and I want this work to be of the highest quality, that the workers are well paid and have good working conditions and a balance,” Pierluisi said. “It is in LUMA’s interest that these projects happen because LUMA, if the network fails, they complain about LUMA. What is in their interest here is that they reach an acceptable middle ground.”
The controversy lies in the fact that LUMA Energy notified the contractors of Puerto Rico that in order to participate in the reconstruction work of the electrical grid they have to hire employees affiliated with the IBEW, and accept the terms and conditions of the union’s collective agreement. As a result, they have to pay the prices agreed in the collective bargaining agreement.
The governor made his statements during the Associated General Contractors of America Convention at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Hotel in Río Grande.