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Puerto Rico utility union requests meeting with gov to discuss stalled collective bargaining

By on September 3, 2019

Prepa’s Aguirre Complex in Salinas (File)

Powerplants break down amid peaking hurricane season

SAN JUAN — The head of the largest employee union at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) said Tuesday that the association was requesting a meeting with Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to discuss concerns over the shortage of powerline workers at the height of the hurricane season.

Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, the president of the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), said in a statement that the governor was sent a hand-delivered letter requesting a meeting after her La Fortaleza office aide Reinaldo Del Valle Cruz failed to address union demands brought to his attention during a “brief meeting” Aug. 22.

Figueroa said Del Valle met with union leaders after “hundreds of powerline workers” gathered at La Fortaleza to make demands concerning the stalled year-old collective bargaining negotiations with management of the public utility. He said the conclusion of such negotiations is critical for proper electric grid operation and maintenance, particularly with the beginning of the most active period of the hurricane season

“Mr. Del Valle promised to give answers to our demands, but unfortunately, to this day, we have not received any answers. The height of the hurricane season has begun; last week, we had the threat of Dorian and it’s necessary already to address the problem of powerline workers leaving [the utility] and the process of negotiations,” Figueroa said.

The union leader said the meeting with the governor is also being requested to discuss different contracts being issued by Prepa Executive Director José Ortiz Vázquez.

“Last week, we found out that Prepa hired a private company for $81,000 to exclusively manage the payroll of José Ortiz’s trust employees, and for this reason we again sent another letter asking for a meeting, because none of these topics are being addressed, neither the contracts that José Ortiz continues to give out, nor the negotiations with powerline workers,” Figueroa said. “This cannot continue; Prepa finds the money for José Ortiz to give out contracts, but gives excuses to [not] do justice to powerline workers. This cannot be allowed and the governor must do something about this.”

AES, Aguirre units out of service

Meanwhile, Daniel Hernández Morales, director of generation at Prepa, confirmed reports Tuesday that unit 1 of the AES powerplant in Guayama and unit 1 of Prepa’s Aguirre powerplant went out of service earlier in the day.

The failure of the AES coal-powered unit was due to a ruptured boiler used to create steam, said Hernández, noting that the 227-megawatt (MW) unit will be out of commission for “four or five” days until repairs are completed. The privately run plant, from which Prepa purchases power, has another 227 MW unit in operation.

He said Aguirre’s unit 1 was forced out of service Wednesday morning due to unspecified “minor technical problems,” adding that the 450 MW unit would be turned back on later in the day after being inspected. The plant’s other 450 MW thermoelectric unit has been out of commission since earlier in the year due to repairs on a broken-down transformer, which was sent abroad for repair, Hernández said, noting that the rebuilt equipment is scheduled to be shipped back to the island in December.

He said that while Aguirre has combined-cycle units that are used as a backup, they were not needed.

“These are normal breakdowns for these types of equipment. It’s the natural outcome of equipment with hundreds of parts that can fail,” he told Caribbean Business, noting that other Prepa units have enough power to balance the system. “None of our clients have been affected by these events.”

Hernández Morales said 99 percent of Prepa clients had power services Wednesday, noting that “there is always” 1 percent without power due to “different reasons,” including repairs and “small power outages.” He denied that Prepa was carrying out rolling outages to balance the system.

—CyberNews contributed to this report.

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