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Puerto Rico’s Power Union Denounces Governor’s Decision to “Sell the Assets” of the Public Power Utility (PREPA)

By Angel Figueroa Jaramillo - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, January 23, 2018

UTIER DENOUNCES GOVERNOR’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE PRIVATIZATION OF THE PUBLIC POWER UTILITY (AEE, OR PREPA)*

San Juan, Puerto Rico, January 23rd, 2018

The Union of Workers of the Electric and Irrigation Industry (UTIER) denounces Governor Ricardo Rossellá’s announcement to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The announcement demonstrates the insensitivity of this government and leaves clear that the welfare of the people is not among the interests of the current Governor.

UTIER has been consistent in denouncing the privatization plans of various government administrations and also the recent intentional slowness in the process of restoring the electrical system.

The Governor is taking advantage of the pain of thousands of people who are currently without electric power. Given the insensitivity of Governor Ricardo Rosellá of announcing the privatization of PREPA in the midst of the suffering of almost half a million Puerto Ricans who still do not have electricity, UTIER once again raises its voice in favor of the people. We have tried through our brigades to restore electric power as soon as possible, despite all the obstacles that the government, the Engineers brigade, the Board of Fiscal Control, and the upper management of PREPA have erected to try to prevent us achieving that goal.

For decades we have warned how various administrations have undermined workers and intentionally damaged the infrastructure of PREPA. This was intended to provoke the people’s discontent with the service in order to privatize our first industry, “the jewel in the crown”, to strip us—the people—of what is ours. “Because PREPA is a public good that belongs to the people and not to the politicians,” said the president of the UTIER, Angel Figueroa Jaramillo.

Figueroa Jaramillo explained how, since the 1970s, governments of the two main parties have tried to privatize PREPA. In each of these attempts, UTIER has reacted immediately, warning the people what this would mean for the country.

“We asked, how come it was possible that, facing so much devastation left by the hurricanes, that we would prioritize hiring a company such as Whitefish, which did not have the staff or experience to handle an emergency like the one we had gone through? Then we met the endless irregularities in the awarding of the contract that was signed with Whitefish and the powerful political links it has with the current US administration. Everything we said was proven to be correct and has been so in every complaint we have made over decades”, said Figueroa Jaramillo.

The President of UTIER insisted, “The position of UTIER is that electricity is a human right and not a commodity. That is what our people have realized after the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria, after having run out of electricity and suffering so many hardships and the loss of family members, either because they have died or had to leave the country. That is why we strongly oppose privatization in any of its expressions, whether through the transfer of assets or the transfer of management to private companies. We ask the people the following question so that they think clearly about it: If PREPA was not profitable and able to generate profits, would there be a company that wanted to acquire it?”

The president of the UTIER urged people to also remember the declarations of the Board of Fiscal Control (JCF) a year ago in which it presented the privatization of PREPA as one of its goals. “We cannot leave the heritage that belongs to us–-the people—in private hands. And one of them is PREPA. Because if at some point we face another atmospheric phenomenon such as the ones to which we are exposed every year during hurricane season, we already know how the private generators AES and Ecoelectrica will react: turning off their machinery in order not to lose their investment. That’s what they did on this occasion. They are not worried about the suffering of the people. That situation cannot be repeated and if PREPA is privatized, that is what’s in store for us. Furthermore, we must not be deceived: privatization increases the electric bill and makes us more vulnerable as the people. Let’s not allow the main industry for the development of our country to be stolen from us. Let’s not wait for it to happen”, added Figueroa Jaramillo.

NUMSA and allies call for dismantling the ‘mineral energy complex’

By NUMSA - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, June 19, 2015

Electricity Crisis Conference Declaration

  1. Introduction:

We, as representatives of trade unions that organise in the energy sector and delegates from communities that are struggling around outages, loadshedding, high electricity prices and poor quality of energy services, met for four days (from 02 to 05 June 2015) in the midst of what we consider as a far-reaching electricity crisis in our country. As we met, on the table of the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) is an application by South Africa’s electricity utility – Eskom – for a 25.3% increase in the price of electricity for the year 2015/16 to 2017/18. As we met, Nersa had agreed to grant municipalities an above-inflation increase of 12.2% from 01 July 2015 and that nine municipalities were applying for average increases above the Nersa increase guideline of 12.2%. We also gathered when delegates at this conference from two municipalities were unsure whether they will reach their homes at the end of our deliberations still with some power, as Eskom threatened to plunge into darkness their defaulting municipalities today.

The electricity crises that face us worsen with each day that passes. The crisis is multipronged. It is a supply crisis and chronic load-shedding. What we see is a financial meltdown of Eskom; massive cost and time overruns in the build programme of new power plants such Medupi and Kusile; and a worsening governance practices within Eskom as executives come and go, leaving with millions of rands as golden handshakes. We have also seen the downgrading of Eskom within capital markets and a ballooning debt for the utility as municipalities fail to pay their bills to Eskom.

As delegates to this Electricity Crisis Conference, we are enthused that our people are refusing to shoulder the implications and consequences of the crises. Throughout the four days, we heard of gallant battles against unaffordable electricity increases and imposition of prepaid meters that are being waged in different communities who refuse to have the burden of the electricity crises shifted onto them. At the forefront of these battles are women who unfortunately still bear the brunt of reproductive activities in our society. Our people realise that the electricity crises directly affects their children’s ability to learn and to be taught as schools are cut off. Our people realise that as most of their staple diets are electricity intensive, tariff hikes increase food hunger in South Africa. They know that an increase in the price of electricity will lead to retrenchments and short-time for workers.

Puerto Rico Braces for Wave of School Privatization

By Jeff Bryant - Common Dreams, February 8, 2018

The warnings came right after the storm: Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico would be used as an opportunity to transfer management of the island’s schools to private operators of charter schools, and introduce voucher programs that would redirect public education funds to private schools.

Sure enough, with nearly a third of Puerto Rico’s 1,100 schools still without power and hundreds more plagued with crumbling walls, leaky rooves, and spotty Internet, Governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced he will propose to create charter schools and voucher programs as a recovery strategy for the island’s education system.

That announcement followed shortly after a new fiscal plan from Rosselló that included closing over 300 of schools.

Leaked Trump Infrastructure Plan is a Blueprint for Corporate Subsidies

By  - CounterPunch, January 29, 2018

The Trump administration’s plans to rebuild infrastructure in the United States have been leaked, and it appears to be as bad as feared. At least three-quarters of intended funding will go toward corporate subsidies, not actual projects. It is possible that no funding will go directly toward projects.

There’s no real surprise here, given that President Donald Trump’s election promise to inject $1 trillion into infrastructure spending was a macabre joke. What is actually happening is that the Trump administration intends to push for more “public-private partnerships.” What these so-called partnerships actually are vehicles to shovel public money into private pockets. These have proven disastrous wherever they have been implemented, almost invariably making public services more expensive. Often, far more expensive. They are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service.

That is no surprise, as corporations are only going to provide services or operate facilities if they can make a profit. And since public-private partnerships promise guaranteed big profits, at the expense of taxpayers, these are quite popular in corporate boardrooms. And when those promises don’t come true, it taxpayers who are on the hook for the failed privatization.

The collapse earlier this month of Carillion PLC in Britain put 50,000 jobs at risk, both those directly employed and others working for subcontractors. The holder of a vast array of government contracts for construction, services and managing the operations of railways, hospitals, schools and much else, Carillion received contracts worth £5.7 billion just since 2011. Overall, an astonishing £120 billion was spent on outsourcing in Britain in 2015.

What did British taxpayers get for this corporate largesse? It certainly not was the promised savings. Parliament’s spending watchdog agency, the National Audit Office, found that privately financing public projects costs as much as 40 percent more than projects relying solely on government money. The office estimates that existing outsourcing contracts will cost taxpayers almost £200 billion for the next 25 years. (This report was issued before Carillion’s collapse.) In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “These corporations need to be shown the door. We need our public services provided by public employees with a public service ethos and a strong public oversight,” The Guardian reported.

Naturally, there was one group that did quite well from this privatization: Carillion’s shareholders, who reaped £500 billion in dividends in the past seven years. But it is the government that will have to pick up the tab if the company’s employees are to continue to be paid. On top of that, the company’s pension shortfall reached £900 billion, according to Reuters.

By no means is Carillion’s collapse the only privatization disaster in Britain. A bailout of the corporate-run East Coast rail system is expected to cost hundreds of millions of pounds. There are numerous other examples that have proven windfalls for corporate executives but expensive mistakes for the public.

Don't privatize Puerto Rico's electric power

By MST - Socialist Worker, January 30, 2018

In late January, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced plans to privatize the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA, by its initials in English; AEE by its Spanish initials). It is a terrible, but not unexpected, stage in a still-disastrous situation, where as many as one-third of residents remain without power four months after Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Rosselló, whose promise to have 95 percent of power restored by Christmas went by the board, said his government "will sell shares in AEE to firms that will transform the power generation system." His televised address was filled with the well-worn buzzwords used to justify previous schemes for privatizing other public services, like health care, telecommunications and the island's main airport. The new system, Rosselló said, will be "modernized and less costly" and "consumer-centered...where you will have choices."

At a press conference after Rosselló's January 23 address, Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, president of the electrical workers union (UTIER, in its Spanish initials), brushed off the governor's claims, saying "We will never fall for the government' game of using the people's suffering [to push through its agenda]."

In the face of these developments, the socialist newspaper Bandera Roja, published by the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras (MST, or Socialist Workers Movement), published the following statement denouncing the long history of corruption and mismanagement of the power authority under the island's two main parties, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and Rosselló's New Progressive Party (PNP). The statement also notes how the years of austerity under PREPA's restructuring officer, the corporate "turnaround" specialist Lisa Donahue, weakened the power grid further.

Puerto Rico’s Decision to Privatize Power Coupled with Trump’s Alarming Infrastructure Plan Spells Out Devastation for Vulnerable Communities

By Wenonah Hauter - Common Dreams, January 23, 2018

“In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people are still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. In a time of such dire need, the Trump administration has failed to provide the support needed to restore water to 7 percent of Puerto Rican residents and power to the nearly one in three residents going without, paving the way for today’s catastrophic announcement. The decision to privatize Puerto Rico’s state-owned power company follows the same dangerous path mapped out in the Trump administration’s draft infrastructure plan.

“Whether it’s water or energy, privatization helps Wall Street at the expense of the wellbeing and health of communities, particularly low-income families and people of color. The leaked infrastructure plan from the Trump administration similarly provides a blueprint for handing over our public land and public water to Wall Street. It seeks to privatize our local water systems and other critical public services, prioritizing limited federal dollars to Wall Street and corporate investors. This scheme would also sell off federal assets and create a new infrastructure fund by opening up federal lands and waters to mineral and energy development benefiting the oil and gas industry.

“A just and equitable infrastructure plan would dedicate funding for water systems, have a progressive revenue stream, and prioritize vulnerable communities with the greatest affordability and public health needs like Puerto Rico. This plan does none of this.

“Federal funding for water infrastructure is at its lowest point in decades. Instead of reversing the decline, Trump’s plan provides zero dollars to the highly successful State Revolving Fund programs, which are the main source of federal support for our local water and sewer systems. Meanwhile, it seeks to open up the clean water fund to private entities. This amounts to taking away existing federal money from our local governments to give to big water corporations.

“From Flint to Puerto Rico, our communities deserve better from our leaders. Our public water systems need dedicated, annual federal support to make sure that every person in our country has safe and affordable water.”

Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection

By Kiera Feldman - Pro Publica, January 4, 2018

Shortly before 5 a.m. on a recent November night, a garbage truck with a New York Yankees decal on the side sped through a red light on an empty street in the Bronx. The two workers aboard were running late. Before long, they would start getting calls from their boss. “Where are you on the route? Hurry up, it shouldn’t take this long.” Theirs was one of 133 garbage trucks owned by Action Carting, the largest waste company in New York City, which picks up the garbage and recycling from 16,700 businesses.

Going 20 miles per hour above the city’s 25 mph limit, the Action truck ran another red light with a worker, called a “helper,” hanging off the back. Just a few miles away the week before, another man had died in the middle of the night beneath the wheels of another company’s garbage truck. The Action truck began driving on the wrong side of the road in preparation for the next stop. The workers were racing to pick up as much garbage as possible before dawn arrived and the streets filled with slow traffic. “This route should take you twelve hours,” the boss often told them. “It shouldn’t take you fourteen hours.”

Working 10- to 14-hour days, six days per week, means that no one is ever anything close to rested. The company holds monthly safety meetings and plays videos, taken by cameras installed inside the trucks, of Action drivers falling asleep at the wheel. “You’re showing us videos of guys being fatigued, guys falling asleep,” a driver told me. (All Action employees asked for anonymity for fear of retaliation.) “But you aren’t doing anything about it.”

“In the history of the company I am sure there have been times where supervisors have inappropriately rushed people,” said Action Carting CEO Ron Bergamini. “They shouldn’t be, and they’d be fired if they ever told people to run red lights or speed. But you have to find the balance between efficiency and safety, and that’s a struggle we work on every day. But you cannot turn around and say, ‘Hey just take your time, go as long as you want.’” He pointed out that workers can anonymously report concerns to a safety hotline. As to the questions of overwork and driver fatigue, Bergamini responded, “That’s a struggle that the whole industry has — of getting people to work less.”

In the universe of New York’s garbage industry, Action is considered a company that takes the high road. A union shop, it offers starting pay of about $16 per hour for helpers and $23 for drivers, far more than many other companies. And unlike some other companies, Action provides high-visibility gear and conducts safety meetings. But since 2008, the company’s trucks have killed five pedestrians or cyclists.

In New York City overall, private sanitation trucks killed seven people in 2017. By contrast, city municipal sanitation trucks haven’t caused a fatality since 2014.

Pedestrians aren’t the only casualties, and Action isn’t the only company involved in fatalities. Waste and recycling work is the fifth most fatal job in America — far more deadly than serving as a police officer or a firefighter. Loggers have the highest fatality rate, followed by fishing workers, aircraft pilots and roofers. From the collection out on garbage trucks, to the processing at transfer stations and recycling centers, to the dumping at landfills, the waste industry averages about one worker fatality a week. Nationally, in 2016, 82 percent of waste-worker deaths occurred in the private sector.

There are two vastly different worlds of garbage in New York City: day and night. By day, 7,200 uniformed municipal workers from the city’s Department of Sanitation go door-to-door, collecting the residential trash. Like postal workers, they tend to follow compact routes. They work eight-hour days with time-and-a-half for overtime and snow removal and double-time for Sundays. With a median base pay of $69,000 plus health care, a pension, almost four weeks of paid vacation and unlimited sick days, the Department of Sanitation workforce is overwhelmingly full time and unionized. It’s also 55 percent white, and 91 percent male.

But come nightfall, an army of private garbage trucks from more than 250 sanitation companies zigzag across town in ad hoc fashion, carting away the trash and recycling from every business — every bodega, restaurant and office building in the five boroughs. Those private carters remove more than half of the city’s total waste.

Puerto Rico teachers fight to reopen schools

Mercedes Martinez interviewed by Peter Lamphere - Socialist Worker, January 4, 2018

Months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leading to hundreds of deaths and devastating much of the island's infrastructure, ordinary Puerto Ricans are still struggling to put their lives and communities together--with little help from the U.S. government.

In November, Mercedes Martinez, president of the Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (FMPR)--a teachers' union that has organized against school closures and attacks on public education for many years--talked to New York City educator Peter Lamphere about how teachers are continuing the fight to rebuild Puerto Rico and what others can do to help.

In early November, 18 FMPR members were arrested as part of a civil disobedience action demanding the reopening of schools and drawing attention to the threat posed by advocates of neoliberalism--who view the hurricane as an opportunity to privatize public education and further weaken the power of the teachers' union.

P is For Privatization

By Camille Baker and Lydia McMullen-Laird - The Indypendent, December 27, 2017

When Nilda Sánchez and her children ventured outside after Hurricane Maria waged a direct hit on Puerto Rico, aluminum road signs were crumpled by the highway near their house and trees crisscrossed each other like slain animals in the street. The power and water were off, and remained so for six weeks. It was nearly three months before Sánchez learned whether another of the mainstays in her family’s life would be restored: her son’s education.

Sebastián, Sánchez’s 9-year-old son, had been receiving therapy for his learning disabilities at Instituto Loaiza Cordero, a public school in their San Juan neighborhood. Already the school had been shut down following Hurricane Irma’s sweeping of the island Sept. 6. For the next three months, Sánchez had no word on how much damage the school had sustained in the storms, and no inkling of whether or when it would reopen.

Their hardships multiplied. Sánchez began to worry that Sebastián, who suffers from developmental delays in hand-eye coordination and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, was regressing without therapy and the routine of school. Child support payments from Sánchez’s ex-husband — whom she left, she said, after he became abusive toward her — stopped coming, slipping through the cracks of administrative upheaval. Without anywhere else to be, Sebastián had to accompany Sánchez to the few job interviews she could find in the hurricane’s wake.

Sánchez says Hurricane Maria opened her eyes to the “cruelty” of living in bureaucratic limbo.

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