Sanders speaks on possible VT Yankee strike

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders is speaking out on the looming strike at Vermont Yankee. Last night in Putney, more than a dozen unionized Vermont Yankee workers turned out for a Sanders campaign event.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers represents 148 skilled workers at the Vernon nuclear plant. They’re threatening to strike over a contract impasse with Entergy, the plant’s owner.

One of the union’s main concerns is an increase in health benefit costs passed on by the company.

Corey Daniels is a reactor operator and the chairman of Union local 300, unit 8. He says the Vernon plant is the best performer in Entergy’s New England Fleet. But its workers are the lowest paid.

Daniels came to the meeting seeking Sanders’ support.

(Daniels) “We just know that he’s a proponent and a champion of organized labor, and that he realizes that this issue isn’t just about the workers here at Vermont Yankee and that it’s not us alone who are facing it. It’s a national health care crisis. And until there’s a united front between employees and employers and legislation hopefully to help address the problem, it’s going to perpetuate.”

(Keese) In his talk, Sanders took the union’s side. He deplored what he called the collapse of the middle class, a decline of liveable-wage jobs and the siphoning of resources to a powerful few.

Sanders has been a critic of the nuclear power industry. But he said that nowhere is a skilled and valued local workforce more important.

(Sanders) “Of all areas in this state where we want to know that workers are well-trained, where we want to know that the turnover rate is low, where we have dedicated people to make sure that the plant is running safe – I can’t think of a place where we want that more than Vermont Yankee.”

(Host) Entergy says it will use management employees to run the plant in the event of a strike. Members of the union and some outside observers have challenged the safety of that strategy.

Entergy and the union will resume talks today, aided by a mediator. Entergy spokesman Brian Cosgrove says he’s still optimistic that an equitable solution is possible.

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