Efrén Paredes, Ralph Kreil

PREPA Executive Director Efrén Paredes and the president of PREPA's Governing Board, Ralph Kreil, participated in a House meeting.

The Governing Board of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) evaluated and approved the contract awarded to LUMA Energy to manage the energy transmission and distribution on the island.

The contract was approved after a 43-minute meeting, as stated in a minute of the gathering that took place on June 22, 2020, and that was delivered to the House Energy Committee in a public hearing.

The president of PREPA's Governing Board, Ralph Kreil Rivera, confirmed to the House representatives the duration of that meeting and declined to comment on whether that was a "responsible" decision by the Board members. Also present at the hearing was PREPA Executive Director Efrén Paredes Maisonet, whose statements raised more questions than answers regarding what will happen to the 4,500 PREPA employees as of June 1, when LUMA Energy will begin its operations.

The contract awarded to LUMA Energy has more than 300 pages. The Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier, by its Spanish acronym) even had to commission a legal study to analyze it due to the complexities involved.

The minutes of the June 22 meeting do not have details of any type of discussion or financial analysis of the document, of the benefits or arguments about the transmission and distribution, nor about the future of PREPA's employees.

"In 43 minutes, PREPA's board of directors approved under a responsibility that the contract for the largest transaction in the history of Puerto Rico of a public corporation has in law. Am I right?," asked Rep. Dennis Márquez, of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP).

"Yes," replied Kreil Rivera.

Later, Márquez questioned whether he understood that PREPA's Governing Board fulfilled its duty by approving the contract without analyzing its content in depth. "I understand that I would have to ask each of the independent members because I am on the committee," the engineer responded.

He added that the presentation to the members of the PREPA Governing Board and the Public-Private Partnership Authority (P3A) was on Friday, June 19, 2020. “That day (June 19), the P3A presented the contract to the Board and there they were solving doubts and clarifying questions about how it was in compliance with the laws. They (the board members) had the weekend to see the contract," he noted.

Job Safety Not Guaranteed

Moreover, Paredes Maisonet could not precise what will happen to PREPA employees not contracted by LUMA and what would happen to other agencies after June 1. "That guarantee is given by the government of Puerto Rico. I can not certify yes or no," the executive director said.

"Those PREPA employees who are not recruited by the transmission and distribution system operator (LUMA Energy), who do not choose to qualify for retirement, and who cannot be transferred to other positions within the authority structure that subsists after the transition with the operator is completed will be referred to the government's Human Resources Administration and Transformation Office," he stated.

He also didn't disclose if they will receive the same remuneration as their current salaries under PREPA or if they have already begun training for their new roles. "That's in the plans," Paredes Maisonet stated.

The remaining PREPA employees will be interviewed by LUMA Energy, but the company will decide if they will keep their salaries.

Uproar Leads to Protest

The Utier, which has been highly critical of the contract and repudiates public-private partnerships (P3s) for PREPA, informed via press release that the utility's workers will go on strike for 24 hours next Tuesday, March 9. As informed, they will mobilize to the Capitol in Old San Juan to protest the contract, as the House continues to hold public hearings to address the agreement with LUMA.

The strike begins on March 8 at 10:00 p.m. and is slated to end on March 9 at 10:00 p.m.

"We decree this strike so that all PREPA workers, represented by the Utier, can see the presentation that the Alliance of Active and Retired Employees will have this next Tuesday, where we will present the truth of the contract with LUMA Energy and the government of Pedro Pierluisi, which has already cost us more than $80 million, increases the rate, eliminates the collective agreement, the Retirement System, job stability and the guarantee of all acquired rights," opined Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the collective.

Meanwhile, Figueroa Jaramillo urged PREPA workers and clients alike to tune in to the public hearing next Tuesday, starting at 10:00 a.m.

- Giovanna Garofalo contributed to this story.

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