Judge Swain authorizes part of electric workers’ suit against Puerto Rico government
SAN JUAN – U.S. Judge Laura Taylor Swain denied in part and authorized in part Thursday a lawsuit filed by the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym) against the Puerto Rico government in the Title III bankruptcy-like case under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (Promesa).
On Aug. 7 last year, Utier filed a lawsuit in the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (Prepa) Title III case, alleging that the austerity laws passed by the administrations of former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and current Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares violated contractual rights, which is prohibited by the U.S. Constitution.
The judge ruled in favor of Utier before the motions of dismissal filed by the island’s fiscal oversight board, Prepa and the central government, thus allowing the process of discovery of evidence and even a ruling to demonstrate that Prepa and the government violated constitutional rights to negotiate and maintain a collective-bargaining agreement in effect. However, it denied all other allegations by the union.
The fiscal board, Prepa and the government had filed motions for dismissal arguing that Utier had no standing to present its claim, that the bankruptcy of the authority was justified, and that therefore, the austerity laws were not arbitrary or unconstitutional. Judge Swain ruled that although Utier’s claims against the board and some of its officials could not proceed, those against the government and the utility did.
“This triumph at this stage will allow us discovery of evidence and present how laws 3, 26, 66 infringed on our rights. We will continue to defend our people in legal forums, in state forums and on the street. We all tell them to keep the faith; we know it is a long process, but we are [working] and continue to work for the well-being of our membership and the Puerto Rican people,” Utier President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo said in a statement.
Attorney Rolando Emmanuelli Jiménez, who represents the union in this case, said it will be important to establish that Prepa engaged in unreasonable, illegal or arbitrary practices that led to the bankruptcy of the public power company.
“Prepa had many other alternatives that would have prevented the bankruptcy process, however, the government and Prepa chose to undermine collective agreements as a shortcut to supposedly resolve the problems of the [Electric Power] Authority. This is not reasonable within the American constitutional law and gives basis to the claim of the Utier. The discovery…will also allow us to investigate the management practices of Prepa and the central government that have caused the debacle of this important public corporation,” the lawyer said.
Emmanuelli Jiménez said proof of how these laws economically affected Utier and its members will be presented.
“The sentence that is issued in terms of damages will be subject to the procedures of a debt-adjustment plan; however, it will represent a significant amount that Utier and its members will receive at the time,” he said.