Vermont Yankee faces a possible strike this week

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(Host) The union that represents 140 Vermont Yankee workers says the two sides are far apart as a strike deadline looms later this week.

A union official says that Entergy-Vermont Yankee cannot run the plant safely if the workers walk off their jobs. But the company says that experienced management personnel are ready to step in if a strike is called.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The three-year contract expires Thursday at midnight and the union says 148 employees are ready to strike unless a settlement is reached.

Corey Daniels is a reactor operator and chairman of Unit 8 of Local 300 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Daniels says wages and health benefits are the main issues in the contract talks.

(Daniels) “The company – which is posting excellent second quarter returns – and their operations and maintenance costs are actually down in relation to production for their nuclear side. They’re asking the employees to absorb on the magnitude of 400% to 500% increases in their health care costs to subsidize their shareholders’ profits and at the same time offer a general wage increase that is below the consumer price index rate of inflation right now.”

(Dillon) Daniels says the company will make a final offer Wednesday at noon, but he’s not hopeful that the contract will be settled before the contract expires Thursday night.

If the workers strike, the company plans to run the plant using management personnel. But Daniels has seen the list of potential replacements, and he doesn’t believe they can run the plant safely.

(Daniels) “Some of the names on that list we’ve never even heard of before. Others are training instructors that haven’t stepped foot in the plant or operated it in any fashion in upward of 20 years. It’s not even close to the same level of safety.”

(Dillon) The safety issue has also been raised by the private security force that works at Vermont Yankee. The security guards – who are members of a different union – issued a statement last week that says emergency response capabilities would be compromised if the plant is run by replacement workers.

But Brian Cosgrove, a spokesman for Entergy-Vermont Yankee, says that experienced management personnel are on hand to run the plant safely.

(Cosgrove) “The operations of the plant would be taken over by on-site Vermont Yankee employees in the management ranks, many of them who have come up through the union, are fully qualified and licensed operators and senior reactor operators so they have many, many years of experience in these jobs and full understanding and familiarity with the operations of the plant.”

(Dillon) State officials are closely following the developments at Vermont Yankee.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says Entergy has dealt with similar labor issues at other plants. O’Brien says that plant managers have assured him that the company has well-trained and qualified people to step in if a strike is called.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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