Wide Gulf and Angry Words in Indian Point Labor Talks
By Roger Witherspoon
January 16, 2014
Rye, N.Y. – Two days of contract talks with federal mediators ended Thursday night
with angry union negotiators and no deal in sight on the last day of the contract between
Entergy Nuclear and nearly 400 workers at the Indian Point power plant.
Talks between company representatives and the Utility Workers Union of America, Local 1-2
broke up shortly before 10 PM Thursday at the Rye Hilton, where both sides have been
sequestered since Wednesday morning. Union local President James Slevin huddled with
mediators from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service after angrily leaving the
“The company doesn’t seem like it’s ready to get serious about negotiating a fair contract,”
said UWU spokesman John Melia. “They haven’t put anything on the table except takeaways
and a regressive offer. It doesn’t seem like they are ready to negotiate in good faith. It seems
as if Entergy is trying to provoke a labor dispute.
“They have a pattern of doing this. They are very anti-labor and have a mindset that every
shareholder should get rich and no one else.”
Melia referred to the five-week lockout by Entergy of UWU members at its Pilgrim Nuclear
Power Station in Massachusetts in June, 2012. The lockout occurred during negotiations
and after union leaders had agreed to two contract extensions so the talks could continue
without a plant interruption. At the time of the lockout, Entergy was demanding concessions
in pay, benefits, health care, and work rules. The final contract included 3% raises for the
Entergy representatives declined to comment Thursday. Neither of the parties nor the
mediators are publicly discussing contract specifics. However, Entergy is believed to be
seeking – at least in its initial stage of discussions – wage cuts and increased employee
contributions to health care.
“That was a calculated risk at Pilgrim outside of Boston,” said Melia, “and a bigger risk
outside New York City. If you think these guys out of the Louisiana swamps want to roll the
dice in the biggest metropolitan area of the United States, then they just brought Duck
Dynasty to Buchanan, New York. It feels like they are saying ‘those Yankees, you know how
“They talk about how they do things down there in the South as if the country is still as
divided as it was 160 years ago.”
If there is a strike or lockout, Entergy has prepared a work plan using primarily non-union
management. That sort of replacement is easier at the twin Indian Point plants than at
Entergy’s smaller, single reactor Pilgrim plant. There were some 1,500 union workers at
Indian Point 2 and Indian Point 3 when Entergy bought the power plants from the New
York Power Authority and Con Edison in 2001. Entergy shed union positions in its
consolidation of the two separate facilities, and now there are just 395 UWU employees.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already approved Entergy’s strike contingency
plan. Agency spokesman Neil Sheehan said the agency reviewed the staffing plans “to ensure
that public health and safety will be maintained during any strike period.
IP2 Control Room
The NRC’s review certified that “The required minimum number of personnel will be available for the proper safety and security of the facility,” said Sheehan in an email
exchange. In addition, he wrote, Entergy’s plan “plan provides assurance that the plant will
continue to be maintained in a safe condition in accordance with the regulatory
The control room operators are members of the union. If there is a strike or lockout, said
Sheehan, the control rooms will be manned by non-unionized supervisors who have been
recertified and are qualified to handle any problems that may arise.
“In order to keep an operator’s license,” he explained, “the supervisors have to prove they
can operate the plant safely. It is something they have to demonstrate on an ongoing basis in
order to keep their certification current.”
While union employment has been cut at Indian Point, the financial picture has also
changed for Entergy. When Entergy bought the plants ConEd and NYPA purchased all
2,000 Megawatts of electricity generated at Indian Point 2&3. But as transmission
capabilities increased and gas powered generation became more plentiful and cheaper, both
utilities began buying their electricity elsewhere.
ConEd, which has some 4 million residential and 200,000 business customers in NYC and
Westchester County, now buys just 560 Megawatts from Indian Point. NYPA, which
provides electricity to municipal buildings, the airports, street lights, schools and the
subways, let its contract lapse at the end of September, 2013, and now buys no electricity
from the nuclear facility. The lone contract for 560 Megawatts represents just 5% of the daily
peak electrical load of about 9,000 MW in the winter and 13,000 MW in the summer.
Still, the twin plants are making money and the last projections submitted to the state called
for profits of about $1 billion annually. And as long as the plant is profitable, the union is
reluctant to consider givebacks.
“We made it very clear,” said Melia, “that we are determined to get a fair shake. Entergy is
playing fast and loose with the welfare of thousands of people, and fast and loose with the nuclear power facilities they own and operate.
“My president isn’t hopeful.”