Union officials meet to protest privatization

By John McPhaul

Union leaders representing employees in 10 public corporations in Puerto Rico met on Sunday to outline an action plan and reverse the different models of privatization that the island government has implemented in the agencies.

The union leaders specified that they have proposed to develop a set of actions aimed at putting an end to a public policy focused solely on privatizing and dismantling public services, and that does not achieve better service for citizens or increase the efficiency of the island’s public corporations.

They presented examples of privatization models that have been implemented in the agencies where they represent employees and that have been questioned because of their high costs and, the union leaders said, because they have been bad business for the people of Puerto Rico.

“As an example of the negative effects of privatization and this dismantling, there is PREPA’s [the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority] contract with LUMA Energy, where the government pays for the entire operation without LUMA assuming risks, which will lead to an increase in rates,” said Ángel R. Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the Electrical and Irrigation Industry Workers Union, which is the main union for PREPA employees. “[This is a] contract for which the people of Puerto Rico have paid close to $100 million just for LUMA to learn.”

Other union leaders attending the meeting were Luis de Jesús, president of the Authentic Independent Union of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA); Lizbeth Mercado Cordero, president of the State Insurance Fund Corp. Employees Union; and Gerson Guzmán López, president of the General Union of Workers (UGT by its Spanish initials), which represents workers at the Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Medical Services Administration-Medical Center (ASEM by its Spanish acronym), the Caribbean Cardiovascular Center, the Agricultural Services Corp., the School of Studio Arts, and the Land, Trade and Export Authority.

De Jesús noted that at PRASA, employees were able to demonstrate that they can do the work of installing meters at a cost significantly lower than the one proposed by the private company, and with greater efficiency.

Similarly, Mercado pointed out that the privatization of pharmacy services at the State Insurance Fund Corp. has only resulted in unnecessary delays in the delivery of drugs to injured workers who receive the service while enriching a privatizer, when the injured are the public corporation’s reason for being.

Guzmán López, the UGT president, added that “we have managed to show that the privatization of billing and collection services at the Cardiovascular and ASEM hospital facilities does not add anything to the excellent work the employees of both [public] corporations have been doing in this area.”

“Without privatization, and the millions [of dollars] going to businessmen’s pockets, it will be possible to provide greater and better health services to the population,” Guzmán López said.

“Meanwhile, nothing has yet been demonstrated, neither by the government nor by the Fiscal Control Board [the federal Financial Oversight and Management Board] that promotes it, that justifies the privatization of the radio and television stations of the Puerto Rico Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The union leaders insisted that the accumulated evidence, in terms of the negative effects of the dismantling of public services, is more than enough to motivate a reconsideration of current public policy by elected officials and the administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia.

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