PREPA workers, unions vow to fight LUMA deal

By The Star Staff

Starting July 15, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) workers will begin a series of actions to force the cancellation of the contract between PREPA and LUMA Energy, the private operator that will manage the utility’s transmission and distribution system as well as other administrative offices.

The announcement was made Tuesday at a news conference by the Alliance of Active Employees and Retirees of the Electric Power Authority, along with more than 20 labor unions, including the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym).

“The contract granted to Luma Energy costs us more than $125 million annually, pays Luma executives high salaries, raises consumer energy rates, dismantles the Retirement System and creates the loss of all rights acquired through more than 78 years of negotiations for PREPA employees,” said UTIER President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo. “We are going to the streets to defend the people against this contract that does not benefit us at all and that is another contract to continue filling the pockets of others while those of the people of Puerto Rico are emptied.”

The labor unions noted that the contract does not require LUMA Energy to hire all of PREPA’s employees. Figueroa Jaramillo urged PREPA workers not to accept any offers from LUMA Energy because they will not have any of the benefits acquired through collective bargaining agreements. The contract will also pay “juicy salaries” to top executives that LUMA will hire at a time when the utility is in bankruptcy court to restructure some $9 billion in debt.

“It has already been publicly revealed how disastrous this contract is for the people of Puerto Rico, a contract that only benefits Luma and not Authority customers,” said Abraham García, president of the Association of Management Employees.

The spokesmen for the Alliance likewise insisted that the contract directly affects the Retirement System for PREPA employees, to which the Authority currently owes $400 million.

“Luma’s contract directly affects retirees, as [it] does not speak about the contributions to the Retirement System and the obligations that currently exist,” said Johnny Rodríguez, president of the PREPA Retirees Association. “We are talking about 12,000 people whose pensions would be affected, which, for many of them, is the only thing they have to live on.”

For his part, Evans Castro, president of PREPA’s Union of Independent Professional Employees, insisted that PREPA employees’ work is at stake, since the contract specifies that they are not required to hire existing staff at the Authority.

“What this contract has brought is uncertainty among PREPA employees, both union members and managers, since it is established that they will only interview us,” Castro stressed. “Our job stability is at stake, our family’s livelihood is faltering and we will not allow it. We are going to take to the streets and we are going to defend our work and our people who are the most affected by this contract and who we invite to participate in this and other activities against the Luma Energy contract.”

Some workers questioned the need for a private manager to perform the work that PREPA workers currently do. PREPA’s fiscal plan says the utility faces a $132 million budget deficit next year because of the service fee that will be paid to LUMA Energy.

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