Union leaders protest plans to change GRU leadership

North Central Florida union leaders are protesting proposed plans to change who operates the Gainesville Regional Utilities.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 6:46 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - North Central Florida union leaders are protesting proposed plans to change who operates the Gainesville Regional Utilities.

They met outside City Hall around noon Thursday to share their opinions on a bill proposed by Representative Chuck Clemons. The union leaders believe locally elected officials should make decisions relating to the GRU.

The GRU is currently run by the Gainesville city commission, but Clemons plans to file a bill to regulate the GRU with a new board.

The bill would allow Governor Ron Desantis to appoint five members, including a residential GRU customer, a private GRU customer and three members with knowledge on utilities.

The proposed bill will be discussed during a legislative meeting in Tallahassee Friday.

“I look forward to seeing improvements in GRU based on changes that have been taking place recently, and that’s why I’m so upset that the state is stepping in trying to change the direction of GRU in a more drastic way without the input from the citizens,” said Alachua County District 1 Commissioner Mary Alford.

GRU owes over a billion dollars in debt; city commissioners have met in the past to discuss ways to lower that number. One idea was to either eliminate or reduce the 30-million dollar general fund transfer that GRU gives Gainesville every year.

“GRU is never going to be able to get rid of all its debt, no utility will ever get rid of all its debt, but the city and the utility are taking concrete steps, they’re going at it line item by line item, to start tackling the debt and to make the utility more sustainable than it already is,” said Alachua County Labor Coalition Coordinator Bobby Mermer.

Robert Arnold, the president of the Communication Workers of America Local 3170, believes the city commissioners are doing their best to clean up the debt accumulating by boards before they were elected.

“We’ve been given assurances by the mayor that they’re going to do their very best to get things in order,” said Arnold. “But they should be given the chance to do that before this happens, and given the chance as the local citizens’ elected people.”

The union leaders are urging citizens to call members of the Alachua County legislative delegation to oppose the GRU takeover bill in an effort to keep the utilities in the hands of the commission.

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