Gov. Pedro Pierluisi asked employees of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to remain "at ease" amid the transition, under which -by virtue of a public-private partnership-, LUMA Energy will take over the public utility's energy transmission and distribution on June 1, amid protests by PREPA workers.
The governor's plea comes as workers have denounced that they have been transferred to other public agencies with little to no relation to their previous positions in PREPA.
"Rest assured. If those decisions have to be reconsidered, they are reconsidered. But for valid reasons, not because they don't want to work there because they don't want to. The government will keep their job and their benefits and that should be the most important thing," Pierluisi said when asked to react to the expressions published today by Thomas Rivera Schatz, spokesman for the New Progressive Party (NPP) in the Senate.
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Earlier today, Rivera Schatz claimed on his social media that the relocation of PREPA workers to other agencies has been laden with errors. "The way that workers who decided to stay in government because they do not want to work for LUMA have been treated is a colossal mistake. It looks vindictive and abusive! It may not be the intention but this is how it looks. We are in time to correct it and I trust that this is the Governor's spirit!," he wrote.
"Sending highly specialized and technical personnel to render services totally inconsistent with their preparation looks like discriminatory harassment and cruel punishment simply for not moving to LUMA. I think that LUMA neither wants nor does this work environment suit it as of June 1," the former Senate president added. "Running over union leaders does not help in the search for solutions. It is simply trying to put out the fire by throwing gasoline at it. Puerto Rican workers do not kneel, FIGHT AND FIGHT, that's the story! We are on time, it is still possible to have a dialogue but above all it can be SOLVED INTELLIGENTLY AND WITH GOOD FAITH!"
According to Pierluisi, roughly 4,000 PREPA employees were transferred to other government instrumentalities.
"All these people had to be located, potentially telling them where they would go to work because the government's position since this was approved, [since] the contract was awarded, since the Energy System Transformation Act was approved, all personnel were guaranteed that they would not lose their jobs," the governor said today at a press conference. “Out of 4,100 employees, I think there may be controversy with 150 positions. My commitment is that when there are situations, that they should raise it, and if the location has to be reconsidered, it will be reconsidered."
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Meanwhile, dozens of unionized employees under PREPA protested this morning outside the central offices of the public corporation, in Santurce, San Juan, once again lashing against the contract with LUMA, while denying that there is a high level of worker absenteeism.
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"That contract is disastrous for Puerto Rico and additionally we are on the street defending the people for the injustice that they have created by taking trucks away from colleagues while there are more than 30,000 customers without service and then coming to lie blatantly, which I catalog even as a criminal act," said Walberto Rolón, secretary of Health and Security at the Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish acronym).
He also denied that employees are not reporting to their work centers. “It is totally false. That is why we have our colleagues there in Utuado, who already saw yesterday that they went with the mayor to provide service to a community," Rolón said in an interview with THE WEEKLY JOURNAL.
Moreover, he called on Pierluisi to listen to this sector's claims. "The governor [should] listen to the people because with friends like the governor we do not need enemies, and the governor is supposed to be a friend of the people and he is not listening to all entities with the expertise in electricity companies, who have said that this contract it is disastrous for the country," he opined.
Earlier this month, the governor vetoed House Joint Resolution 88, which, among other issues, sought to postpone the LUMA Energy contract that comes into effect on June 1. In his veto, the governor stated that the measure in itself is unconstitutional, since he considers that it undermines current contractual obligations.
- Reporters Giovanna Garofalo and Yaritza Rivera contributed to this story.