Murray rips NRC, Entergy

Senate President questions use of replacement workers for Pilgrim plant

As the lockout of workers at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth continues amid stalled contract negotiations, Senate President Therese Murray had some harsh words Thursday for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We don’t know who’s in the plant. We don’t know what their training is, and NRC as usual ignores the town’s and the state’s wishes. We’ve had the congressman down there. We’ve been in touch with NRC and they say it’s fine. We’ll it’s not fine,” Murray said during an interview on WATD-FM. 

Murray, who lives in Plymouth, said residents are worried about the safety of the plant, which the NRC recently relicensed over the objections of many state officials.

“They should be nervous. The town justifiably feels Entergy is not being a good neighbor. We don’t believe there was a reason for them to lock out workers who are trained and understand and have been working in that plant for 30 years or more,” Murray said.

Of the 650 employees at the plant, 240 workers are part of the union bargaining group currently locked out of their jobs and picketing outside the plant, according to Entergy. Most of the jobs vacated by those workers are being filled by fewer managers who are “fully qualified, licensed and trained to the same standards,” said a spokesman.

“Senate President Murray, I understand, is being sympathetic to the bargaining unit and is Democrat and I understand that, but any suggestion that the plant is being operated by workers that aren’t at least as qualified is flatly wrong,” said Jack Alexander, government affairs manager for plant owner Entergy Corp.

In addition to NRC inspectors having a constant presence at the plant, Alexander said Entergy has also brought 15 contracted radiation protection technicians to Plymouth. He said the technicians are familiar with the plant after having worked there in April when Entergy boosted its staff after an unexpected power outage. Those workers are currently undergoing updated training, and will be put to work soon.

Entergy also plans to transfer an unspecified number of workers from other power plants owned by the company to Plymouth over the weekend to assist with tasks such as planning for the next refueling outage. That task and others have been put on hold while Pilgrim has been operating with fewer employees.

Murray said her office has been receiving calls from locked out workers concerned about going an extended period of time without a paycheck, and from others concerned about safety. A federal mediator is involved in the talks, but Murray said she does not understand why employees can’t return to work while negotiations continue. 

Alexander said the federal mediator received a letter on Wednesday from the bargaining unit indicating the union is ready to resume talks, and those will begin once the mediator reached out to both parties. In the meantime, Alexander said Entergy’s position is that the best way to get workers back on the job is to finalize a contract.

“The issue that caused us to keep them out to begin with was their refusal to sign a no-strike agreement. When they refused to extend the contract anymore with a no-strike provision we couldn’t tolerate people in a nuclear power plant who in the middle of a shift could just walk off the job,” Alexander said.

“We really do believe now the issue to get everybody back to work and get back to normal is to have a contract,” he continued.

The stalled contract talks come in the wake of a vote by Utility Workers of America Local 369, representing Pilgrim workers, to authorize a strike. Negotiations continued for a brief time after the contract expired under extension agreements reached between the union and Entergy.

Dan Hurley, president of the union, denied sending a letter to the mediator, but said he has made it clear that the union is ready to negotiate at any time. He also said Entergy never broached the topic of a no-strike agreement before locking out employees.

“If we meet and negotiate we could probably get a deal in a day. But we have to sit at the table and negotiate,” Hurley said, indicating he would have to discuss with his governing board whether workers would request a return to work if talks resumed. “Certainly, we want to be in our plant.”

Alexander said Entergy has put a four-year contract offer on the table that it believes to be “generous given the economic conditions.” He declined to elaborate on the offer.

Meet the Author

Matt Murphy

State House News Service
Hurley ripped Alexander’s characterization of the contract offer: “They’re leaving out the fact that they want to cost shift medical back onto the workers and if you count that it’s not a generous offer. This plant makes $1 million a day and they just got a 20-year extension. To cost shift medical expenses is just disgusting. This company takes profit over safety and their workers by doing these things.”

Unions workers are planning a rally outside the State House next Tuesday afternoon. Murray, Rep. Martin Walsh, and AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman are confirmed to attend, according to organizers.