• The Star Staff

LUMA Energy head says he hasn’t been consulted about amendments, stands behind contract

LUMA Energy President Wayne Stensby

By The Star Staff

LUMA Energy President Wayne Stensby said Sunday he has not received any proposed amendments to the LUMA Energy contract that seeks to take over the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) transmission and distribution system on June 1 from the steering committee overseeing the contract but, nonetheless, rejected any proposed amendments.

At a roundtable with reporters, Stensby stood behind the agreement as it was negotiated and duly executed. Amendments to the contract need to be approved by all parties.

“It was a competitive process,” Stensby said. “It was well run. … It was lengthy. We spent 18 months competing. … Our focus now is to move to service commencement.”

In March, the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym), the main union of PREPA employees, submitted some 35 pages of amendments to the contract signed in June 2020. The amendments seek to preserve the administrative and operational structure of PREPA, maintaining the workforce, labor rights per the collective agreements, and the administrative manuals applicable to management, with clear definitions of LUMA Energy’s managerial prerogatives.

Under the contract, LUMA Energy will make all of the decisions regarding the management of the T&D and will only answer to the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau.

Last week, energy steering committee chairman Larry Seilhamer said the amendments were being evaluated. They were discussed at a steering committee meeting in April and Seilhamer said they were going to be presented to the governor.

After the UTIER May 1 protest against the LUMA Energy contract fell on deaf ears, union members are hoping the U.S. District Court will listen to their pleas.

PREPA last week sent letters to some 4,000 workers informing them that they will be transferred to other agencies on June 1 and that if they don’t show up they will be laid off.

Some of the workers, however, reported they were transferred to non-existent jobs or non-existent offices. For instance, a worker was transferred to the Consumer Affairs Department regional office in Carolina, which does not exist. Another worker, a lineman, was transferred to work as a nurse in the Río Piedras Medical Center.

The workers, who did not apply to jobs with LUMA Energy were transferred to other agencies by virtue of Act 120 of 2018, the law that called for the transformation of PREPA.

The LUMA Energy contract does not recognize the collective bargaining agreement because of recommendations made through a market sounding process as to what was more viable for the contract, according to the Public-Private Partnership Authority.

As he has done in the past, Stensby declined to say how many workers have been hired. He said 20,000 Puerto Rico residents have applied for jobs with LUMA and encouraged PREPA workers to apply for jobs with the company, stating “we value their expertise,” but insisted he will have the number of workers he needs by June 1.

“We are confident we have enough employees for June 1,” Stensby said. “I don’t think it is productive to get into the numbers game.”

LUMA Energy, however, has told the steering committee that they have made 1,500 offers to PREPA. Of those, 550 have been accepted.

Today, UTIER is holding another protest in front of PREPA offices to raise awareness of what they call the damages that the contract is inflicting.

However, UTIER’s eyes are now set on a court ruling that may put a stop to the contract.

UTIER recently sued the government to stop the operation and management contract, arguing that it substantially impairs UTIER’s members, since it dismantles PREPA and does not recognize UTIER’s collective bargaining agreement with PREPA, and its members’ acquired rights and benefits accordingly.

The execution of the agreement, UTIER said, results in the displacement of PREPA’s workforce, and it does not acknowledge the employees’ position in PREPA. Also, under the contract LUMA Energy will not assume the responsibilities of PREPA with regard to the pension contributions to the Sistema de Retiro de los Empleados de la Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (SREAEE). The contract guts the SREAEE and will accelerate its insolvency, UTIER officials said.

The judge set a hearing for May 18. Opponents of the petition have to provide replies by Wednesday.