Negotiations continue between utility workers and the owner of Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County. Union members voted to strike Thursday unless an agreement is reached. Meantime, plant management and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have a plan should the strike occur.
Nearly 400 members of Local 1-2 Utility Workers of America could walk off their jobs after union workers voted January 11 to authorize a strike January 17, when their contract with Indian Point parent company Entergy expires. Union workers and Entergy are trying to hammer out what would be the final contract. The Buchanan-based plant is slated to close by 2021. John Melia is spokesman for Local 1-2.
“Well, negotiations as we enter these last hours are going slowly,” Melia says. “This is nothing that is unusual at the negotiating table but, as we get close to the strike deadline we hope that matters will resolve.”
Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Entergy.
“So going down to the wire is not unusual. That’s happened in the past,” Nappi says. “And we have personnel, management, non-represented personnel who obviously have worked at the plant for many years who are trained and qualified to fill all of the positions that are needed to operate the plant safely if we get past midnight and there was some sort of labor action.”
Neil Sheehan is spokesman for the NRC, which is satisfied with Entergy’s strike contingency plan.
“They had to tell us exactly how they would be able to staff critical positions if a walkout were to occur. They had to demonstrate that control room operator crews, replacement crews, would be fully qualified,” Sheehan says. “And then we had to develop our own strike contingency plan. So we would have enhanced inspector oversight. We would have two inspectors there around the clock during the first 24 hours of a strike. We would have at least one inspector around the clock for probably the first two weeks or so, and then we would still have enhanced coverage for as long as it lasted but, we would, at that point, we would start to evaluate what are needs were.”
Local 1-2 President James Slevin, in a release posted on the union’s website, says Entergy has a pattern of bringing in outside contractors to close a facility. Melia speaks to this. “That concerns us not only from a safety standpoint but from a professionalism standpoint,” says Melia. “Our members have worked there, some of them since it opened and was owned by Con Edison, so there’s continuity of care; there’s professionalism; there’s safety.”
He says a new contract would expire in 2022, so an extension is on the table. Nappi says with decommissioning on the horizon, the possibility of employing union workers beyond the plant’s closure is being discussed.
“It’s my understanding it’s something that the union has raised and that we’re speaking with them about,” says Nappi. “Certainly there’s going to be changes after Indian Point shuts down, which is scheduled for Unit 2 in 2020 and Unit 3 in 2021. There will be reductions in headcount over time and there’s different phases that a plant goes through during decommissioning. So that’s something that the union has raised and that we’re speaking with them about.”
Sheehan talks about which areas the strike would impact.
“This does not affect security,” says Sheehan. “This affects people in the operations, maintenance, chemistry and radiation protection departments, so really almost every aspect of the plant other than the plant’s security.”
He says a strike would be unusual given so few have occurred at nuclear power plants over the years.
“It is a rare occurrence,” says Sheehan. “There have only been a handful of strikes over the years, and there have not been any strikes at U.S. nuclear power plants in recent years.”
Melia says union members will punctuate their call for a fair contract with an afternoon event.
“We will be having a practice picket this afternoon outside the plant at 3 o’clock,” Melia says. “It’s just another way to show that we’re united and that we want a fair contract from Entergy.”
For now, it’s wait and see leading up to midnight Wednesday.