Union Leaders Release Joint Statement Opposing JEA Sale

In a joint statement today, the leaders of six unions who represents workers employed by JEA opposed selling the utility.

The presidents of the local branches of the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 2358, Jacksonville Supervisor Association, and the Professional Employees Association, along with the agent of the Labors International Union of North America, sent the statement to media, the City Council and its President Anna Lopez Brosche, the mayor’s office and JEA CEO Paul McElroy. (Disclosure: my spouse works for JEA.)

In it, the union leadership states, “…there is a very simple reason for not selling JEA that overcomes all the noise. For any company or entity willing to buy JEA, whether it is one billion, or 20 billion [dollars], that company or entity has the resources to ensure the price it pays will definitely be paid back in full, with interest.” (Emphasis in original text)

The statement also claims that the ratepayers will ultimately be on the hook for any company’s costs of acquiring the utility, plus profits and interest. “The premium payment will either come in increased rates down the road, or by higher property tax, or less services offered by the city.” Those who oppose the sale have pointed out that the city would be unable to stop a private entity from increasing rates, and questioned whether the city will be able to maintain its current level of services without the millions JEA contributes to the city budget. This year, JEA’s annual contribution to the city budget is $116 million, in addition to other fees.

The statement begins with a list of reasons to sell JEA and a list of reasons to retain it. Each reason to sell is addressed with a counterpoint. For example, “One-time cash windfall—amount or uses not guaranteed—laws may restrict uses and cause unintended consequences;” and “Flat industry electric revenues—industry-wide issue—JEA has adjusted well with fiscal discipline and accelerated debt reductions and has options for growth.”

Its listed reasons to retain JEA include maintaining local control and governance, benefits to local businesses in the form JEA contracts, potentially high costs of executing the sale, the uncertainty of what JEA could fetch on the private market and potential of the sale reaping lower net revenue than projected by some.

The letter concludes, “Our joint statement is that we hereby declare that a privatization of JEA is not in the best interest of the public, City, or JEA. Therefore, we jointly and respectfully call for an end to the initiative to privatize JEA and we call for our leaders to do the same by voicing their opposition to JEA privatization, publicly.”

This latest development is certain to rattle some cages in City Hall.

Since outgoing JEA board member Tom Petway suggested that the time had come to consider privatizing the utility in November, the saga has gripped the city. The drama most recently included a series of missives fired between Major Lenny Curry, whom many believe is behind the privatization push (though he denies it), and City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche. In a letter earlier this week, Brosche accused the mayor’s office of hindering the City Council’s ability to gather information about the sale; the mayor clapped back with a letter accusing her of playing a public relations game.

Speaking on the phone today, Brosche commended the union leaders for voicing their position, and said that she remains committed to the work being done by she and the other councilors on the Special Committee on the Sale of JEA.

“I appreciate them communicating their position in a formal way and helping us understand and letting that feed into the process of those resolutions we have before us,” she said.

The resolutions she refers two are dueling pieces of legislation filed by Councilmen Jim Love and Matt Schellenberg. Love’s resolution, co-introduced with Reggie Gaffney and Joyce Morgan, seeks a council vote opposing the sale. Schellenberg’s would encourage the mayor and JEA to continue exploring the sale. Both will be read at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Asked about her opinion of the process for this push to privatize JEA, Brosche was frank. “I think it was botched from the beginning and not transparent.”

She maintained her typical professionalism discussing the recent kerfuffle between herself and the mayor. “Ultimately, I have made numerous attempts to have a respectful and productive relationship throughout the year and I really can’t speak to his state of mind or how emotions are guiding what we’ve seen in recent communications,” she said. “I’m going to keep doing my job and doing my thing and, however he wants to proceed, I’m sure he’s going to do the same.”

Folio Weekly reached out to the mayor’s office for reaction to the union leadership’s statement and will update this article with his response.