Utier v. LUMA Energy

UTIER has continuously disavowed the agreement between PREPA and LUMA Energy. >Josian E. Bruno Gómez

At least two of Puerto Rico's gubernatorial candidates have denounced both publicly and before the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier, by its Spanish acronym) the contract between the P.R. Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and LUMA Energy LLC., under which the latter would manage the public entity's energy transmission and distribution.

The candidate for Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials), Alexandra Lúgaro, and the candidate for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish initials), Sen. Juan Dalmau, reiterated in missives their respective stances in favor of cancelling the agreement.

LUMA Energy was selected last June by the Public-Private Partnership Authority (P3A) to operate, manage, upkeep, repair, and restore PREPA's electricity grid for 15 years at a cost of roughly $1.5 billion.

"From the beginning, we have indicated our rejection of said agreement as harmful to the interests of the people of Puerto Rico... Our position is that, at its root, the contract with LUMA Energy is void. First, because it is [unfair]. Second, because it violates the public policies of Puerto Rico in relation to labor rights; and third, because it keeps us from meeting the renewable energy objectives that we have set for ourselves. It is for all of the above that we would be immediately canceling said contract and litigating its nullity," Lúgaro stated.

"We are committed to canceling the aforementioned contract within 100 days. Replacing a public monopoly with a private one is not the correct public policy," Dalmau said in response to a letter that Utier addressed to the gubernatorial candidates.

One of Utier's claims on this contract is that it does not recognize the agreement with the employees of the public corporation and has the effect of nullifying all acquired rights. In addition, the union has established that it does not have any benefit to Puerto Ricans and that it represents the dismissal of over 6,000 employees who currently work at PREPA. They have also claimed that the agreement is designed so that LUMA does not have to invest money and has the freedom to leave the business when suitable.

Meanwhile, the candidate for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Isabela Mayor Carlos "Charlie" Delgado Altieri said that he would analyze the contract and that he is concerned about some of its provisions. However, during this stage, he was not emphatic in dissolving the agreement.

"I have very legitimate concerns and similar to those of many other sectors of our people. The clauses of the contract are worrying because the control and operation of the electrical system do not protect the jobs and benefits that our public servants acquired over many years, and may lead to an increase in the final rates paid by customers. One thing is a concession to administer, and another is to privatize," Delgado asserted.

'No' to Privatization

Three of the candidates who have responded to Utier's concerns opposed the privatization of PREPA and other essential services.

"We reject the privatization policies of essential services and public goods, which subject them to the logic of competition and private profit," Lúgaro said, citing the Urgent Agenda, the MVC's primary document. Likewise, the newly-formed party proposes to "constitutionally define essential services and social guarantees and put them before the debt payment."

Moreover, Dalmau affirmed that the PIP's position is that PREPA "must remain in the people's hands," stating that access to electricity is an essential component in human development. Other promises made by Dalmau include: review PREPA's debt agreement; subsidies for people and small businesses that can't afford rate hikes; review current contracts to assign them to PREPA employees.

Delgado reiterated that essential services should remain in the government's scope, but acknowledged that the private sector can collaborate to provide these services. "They are services that, by their nature, cannot be totally transferred to the private sector. The government's purpose is not profit, but service," he said.

Neither Pedro Pierluisi, candidate under the New Progressive Party (NPP); Dr. César Vázquez, of the Dignity Project party not independent candidate Eliezer Molina have responded to Utier.

However, Pierluisi has publicly spoken about his stance on the contract, stating that it should be renegotiated to address the claims of the working class in order to ensure labor rights.

"The contract announced by the governor between PREPA and LUMA suffers from the same defect as many of the actions that have tarnished her administration, the lack of transparency. We learned of the agreement's signing without opportunity for the People to review it and express themselves on its terms and clauses that compromise the future of our electrical system," the NPP hopeful said in a missive.

Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of Utier, urged the three candidates to consign their promises via letters.

"To the candidates who have not yet answered, know that the workers and the country are attentive to what the candidates do and do not do to cast their vote in the upcoming elections. I repeat it again, not answering the letter is not answering a country that is pending everything that the candidates say on matters so important to all Puerto Ricans," he said.

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