SEABROOK — A federal mediator arrives at the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant today, hoping to break a contract impasse that could lead to a lockout of plant operators represented by the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, as early as Dec. 2.
That would leave operation of the plant in the hands of supervisory or non-union personnel, a situation which poses no risk to the public, according to a spokesman for the plant’s owner, NextEra Energy, based in Juno, Fla.
The current five-year contract with Local 555 expires on Dec. 2, according to union President Ted Jenis, who said negotiations have been under way since Sept. 18 as the current five-year contract drew to a close.
Jenis said previous contracts have been renewed without any labor unrest. “This is a first-time situation,” he said. “There seems to be a total attitude change toward the workers from the corporate level.”
The union represents 226 workers who specialize in mechanical and electrical positions at the power plant, including instrumentation, calibration and control room operators. The plant employs about 670 overall, the balance of which are not unionized, including management, planners and schedulers.
Negotiators have been at odds over wages and a company proposal to eliminate a special classification for firefighter technician /EMT. Jenis said the company has offered 2 percent raises each year in a three-year contract, while the union’s latest offer was for 2.7 percent.
The main sticking point, according to management and labor, has been a proposal by management to end premium pay for weekend work, and instead create rotating shifts that include weekend coverage at regular pay.
“We have communicated with the union today (Tuesday) that pending an agreement by midnight, Dec. 2, there will be a lockout,” said Seabrook Station spokesperson Al Griffith. “We’ve done everything in our power to avoid this situation, including our call to bring in a federal mediator to assist in reaching an agreement.”
Griffith said the company has repeatedly asked the union leadership to bring the proposal to membership for a vote. “This is a contract that compares very favorably to other contracts in the NextEra fleet and across the industry,” he said.
Jenis pointed to the total compensation package of the NextEra CEO for 2013, which he said was $33.5 million, a 65 percent increase over 2012. Other top company executives received 22 percent increases over 2012 packages, he claimed.
“Their battle cry is ‘natural gas is killing us. We are not making the money we were making five years ago,’ ” said Jenis. “But it’s hard for us to sit here and see these raises go out to management.”
He said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been on site and is monitoring the situation.
“When they bring this supervision in (to run the control room), you are talking about individuals who haven’t been in the field, working with these tools, for 20 years, even though they kept the licensing,” said Jenis.
NextEra is confident in the ability of management and non-union personnel to operate the plant, should it come to that, according to Griffith.
“We have a comprehensive plan in place for a wide variety of contingencies that could affect operations, and that includes a work stoppage,” he said. “Most of our supervisors or managers have been promoted internally and as part of our contingency planning, all of these people have been requalified for their former roles. They are fully qualified to perform the duties of employees displaced by the situation.”