A union that represents more than 300 workers at Indian Point Energy Center is in around-the-clock negotiations after voting to authorize a strike if it doesn’t reach a labor deal by tomorrow, Jan. 17.
Employees of the Buchanan nuclear plant that are members of Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2 are looking for a collective bargaining agreement with Entergy Corp., the plant’s owner and operator, that would extend to the plant’s planned 2021 closure.
The union’s current contract with the company expires tomorrow. The union represents operations, radiation protection, chemistry and maintenance workers at the plant.
“Stay tuned,” Local 1-2 President James T. Slevin said in a statement on Thursday. “My members could be walking the picket line next week.”
John Melia, a spokesman for the union, told the Business Journal today that Entergy and the union are sequestered and still talking.
“We always have hope,” Melia said when asked about the union’s confidence in reaching a deal.
“The one piece of leverage we have is a strike authorization, which we received last week,” he said. “This is the nature of the beast, and we are going to be at it and hope to reach an agreement.”
The plant’s two nuclear reactors will close by 2021 as part of a legal settlement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Entergy and the environmental group Riverkeeper announced in January 2017. The state and Riverkeeper agreed to drop legal challenges against Indian Point’s relicensing. In exchange, Entergy agreed to close the plant within four years, a decision the company said was driven by economic factors.
Slevin, in the strike authorization vote announcement, criticized the decision to close the plant. He said the state has no plan in place to replace the energy from Indian Point’s two reactors, which provides about 25 percent of Westchester and New York City’s electricity.
“My members have worked at Indian Point since it began operating more than 40 years ago, and despite the state’s sudden announcement to close Indian Point, we know that there’s a long way to go before Entergy can walk away,” Slevin said.
The union is expected to push for a role in the decommissioning work that will follow the closing. Melia said Entergy has a history of bringing in outside operators for the decommissioning of its plants, but local union members would certainly want the work.
“Our feeling is we’re the best to do it, we’ve been with the plant since it opened,” Melia said.
But Melia said that future role is not necessarily the focus of current negotiations.
“Are these things being talked about? I’m sure,” Melia said. “But right now, all we’re focused on is getting a decent contract of wages and benefits for the next four years.”
Jerry Nappi, a spokesman for Entergy, confirmed negotiations are ongoing.
“The company will continue to bargain in good faith toward an agreement that provides benefits to the members of the UWUA Local 1-2 at Indian Point and Entergy,” Nappi said in an email statement.
He said, “Entergy has established a contingency plan to continue with the safe operation of Indian Point in the event of a labor action. Management personnel are trained and qualified to fill all of the positions needed to operate the units safely and in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. All important support functions – safety, shift operations, emergency planning and response, and others – would be staffed with the required levels of qualified personnel.”
Neil Sheehan, a public affairs officer for the NRC, said federal regulators are “continuing our activities in preparation for a possible strike at the Indian Point nuclear power plant on Jan. 18.”
That includes reviewing Entergy’s strike contingency plans, following the progress of negotiations and readying the NRC’s own strike contingency plans, including NRC oversight during a walkout, Sheehan said.