Nuclear Power Workers Vote Down Contract As Safety Questions Mount

Mike Elk

Nuclear power plant workers in Massachusetts are refusing cuts to their pay and healthcare, with hopes that their employers will acknowledge the needs of the workers' standard of living.

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On Wednesday, locked-out nuclear power plant workers in Plymouth, Mass., members of Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA), voted down a proposed contract by a margin of 137 to 89. The vote came as a surprise because only a day before UWUA Local 369 President Dan Hurley said in a statement that, we have finally emerged with an agreement that has important protections for the hardworking men and women who safely operate this 40-year-old nuclear power plant on a daily basis.”

But on Thursday, Hurley announced that the union had voted down the contract. The hardworking men and women who keep Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant operating profitably and safely have spoken loud and clear: They will not accept cuts to their pay or healthcare from a company making record profits and paying executives in the tens of millions,” said Hurley. We urge Entergy to return to the bargaining table so that we can realistically address the very real concerns of our members.”

The plant workers, who have been on the picket line for two weeks, say they found the contract too concessionary. We looked at the insurance changes, the insignificant pay raise, and we felt in a four-year period that we would be losing money. We felt we would be going backwards in our standard living,” says union member Bill Davenport.

Davenport says the union brought back the contract to a vote despite it getting voted down previously because some of the members are getting restless and the union wanted to take a vote of the group.

They agreed to bring back the proposal so that the rank and file could vote on it in a democratic process,” says Davenport. Some people are willing to go back in or go get other jobs. We have to sit down and speak to these people. We want to maintain our lifestyle and not go backwards. This is a profitable company and they are asking us for give backs.”

For now, union members say they will keep walking the picket line despite their concerns about safety at the plant. On June 13, Entergy was forced to cancel a planned safety drill at the Pilgrim Station plant because they did not have enough replacement workers in the plant to operate it.

It’s deeply alarming to know that this critical safety drill was canceled because Entergy doesn’t have enough manpower in the plant, particularly when there are 240 experienced workers ready and willing to do their jobs,” said Hurley. This drill happens only once a quarter and serves a vital role in helping operations and response crews interact and practice real emergency scenarios that could arise at Pilgrim Nuclear. The drill’s cancellation is disturbing and another indication that Entergy is placing profits before the safety of workers and our communities.”

Workers say the inability of Entergy to perform a safety drill is one more reason why the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should shut down the plant while the workers are locked out. Entergy did not return requests for comment, but NRC spokeswoman Diane Screnci says, It was a practice drill that the company had scheduled that they decided to hold at a different time. We don’t have issues with that.” Screnci added that the cancelled drill was not a legally required drill and that we are continuing with our 24-hour oversight at the plant.”

But workers think the NRC should go further. The guys in there now have generic qualifications, but they don’t know how to perform manipulations in there,” says Davenport. If the NRC shut them down, they would lose $1 million, at minimum. They would settle it right away”. 

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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