Companies Pull Workers From Puerto Rico, But Many Residents Still Without Power

The morning after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Considerable progress has been made in the effort to restore power and communications to Puerto Rico since last September when Hurricane Maria devastated the island’s power grid. According to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), 1.1 million people—about 86 percent of the island’s customers—have regained power, but this still leaves hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans living in the dark nearly five months after the hurricane hit. Now the USACE says it will begin a “responsible drawdown” of its workforce.

As the organization in charge of the federal effort to repair the damaged grid, the USACE awarded major contracts to the Fluor Corp. and PowerSecure to repair transmission and distribution lines across the island. At the height of the restoration efforts, half of the 6,200 workers on the island worked for the corps.

In the last weeks of February, nearly 1,000 power workers left the island; though, as of Mar. 6, 1,934 personnel remain (1,697 of which are contractors from Fluor and PowerSecure) according to the Twitter messages posted by the USACE. PowerSecure is scheduled to wrap up work by April 7.

Local Puerto Rican authorities are unhappy about the move, arguing that it is too soon for the companies to leave and the work is not finished.

“Fluor was among the first companies to get here, about a month and a half ago,” Jorge L. González Otero, the mayor of Jayuya told the New York Times. “They said the contract was over, and they left everything half-done.”

Flour has already billed the maximum allowed in its contract—$750 million. Its subcontractors began packing up in the third week of February.

In addition to concerns about the reduced workforce, some have complained about the quality and amount of work that has already been completed. Some have criticized Fluor in particular for working slowly and using up the money under its contract, completing less work than expected.

“I understand that they were slow—super slow,” González Otero said. “Now we don’t have anyone, slow or at all. We have no one.”

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