Head of PREPA Retirees Assn. vows to lobby for veto override on HB 1383
By The Star Staff
Faced with what they called a betrayal of customers along with active and retired Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) workers, PREPA’s Retirees Association is launching an intense lobbying campaign in the island Legislature to obtain the votes that will allow lawmakers to override Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s veto of House Bill 1383.
Association President Johnny Rodríguez Ortiz lamented that the governor would rather defend economic powers rather than sign into law legislation that would allow him to cut the debt with PREPA’s creditors by 75 percent, avoiding hikes in energy rates for 40 years. He said the bill would protect the Retirement System and employees’ collective bargaining agreement.
“Access to energy and water is a human right because our lives depend on these resources and whoever controls energy, water, controls the country,” he said. “We see how privatization with LUMA is synonymous with corruption, increases in bills, blackouts, explosions, lies and much more. We are against the privatization of energy generation, since we would also lose 68% of the water reservoirs that supply aqueducts, agriculture and our residences.”
The association has been protesting every Wednesday for over eight months in front of PREPA’s central office in Santurce, demanding the annulment of the LUMA contract and pension protections. Last Wednesday, “we participated in a mass demonstration, denouncing that they came to improvise, to plunder the federal funds allocated for the restructuring of the system and from the first day, they have presented zero solutions,” Rodríguez Ortiz said.
“Rather, they are focused on further deteriorating the electrical power system on the island,” he said. “They do not keep up with the maintenance of the transmission and distribution systems.”
The Retirees Association president stated that “our movement continues to grow. From a group of hundreds of retirees, we now have thousands of comrades who have joined this fight.”
Rodríguez Ortiz lamented that Pierluisi “has turned his back on the people” since the start of the current four-year term, allowing PREPA’s debt with the Retirement System to rise to $833.8 million. It is expected that by August 2023 PREPA’s Retirement System will become insolvent, and the island government would have to assume responsibility for the pensions of PREPA’s 12,000 retirees and those about to retire.
“Although some have wanted to make us invisible, the demonstration was successful, exceeding our expectations,” Rodríguez Ortiz said. “Unquestionably, we put the current governor on the defensive, hence the reactions of those close to him against the protest. That is why he vetoed House Bill 1383 and joined the Financial Oversight and Management Board.”
“We managed to ignite the spark of the people’s indignation at the high cost of electricity service, something out of proportion,” he added. “It is time to pick up the pace and continue on the street because it is the only forum we have at hand.”
Rodríguez Ortiz lamented that the parties that have governed Puerto Rico have taken it upon themselves to criminalize and discredit the work of PREPA employees, placing on the shoulders of the workers the responsibility that “we have bankrupted the Authority.”
“Nothing is further from the truth. First, that we do not employ, nor do we sign contracts,” he said. “Second, in public hearings in the Capitol it was revealed that the public corporations of the Puerto Rico government owe PREPA $210.5 million. Some of these debts date back more than 10 years. Why do they always blame the employees, the UTIER [the main labor union of PREPA workers] and its leaders, lately with all the blame on [UTIER President Ángel Figueroa] Jaramillo? Aren’t public corporations supposed to have an obligation, like you and me, to pay for the service they receive? Was it not the parties, when it came to obtaining votes, that established subsidies for public housing, churches, hotels, among others, as a populist measure, without having a source of repayment?”
“The amount owed isn’t only in the government sector; in others, the debt is around $700 million, which adds up to $1 billion that they have not recovered,” Rodríguez Ortiz pointed out. “It is obvious that the fuel has to be paid for, but it is not fair that the government transfers that responsibility only to subscribers without any subsidy, in such a brazen way.”