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Pilgrim nuclear plant union to vote on new contract

Union workers locked out of their jobs since contract talks with the owner of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station broke down two weeks ago will vote on a new agreement Wednesday.

Negotiators for Entergy, which owns the Plymouth plant, and members of Utility Workers Union of America Local 369 reached a tentative deal around 4 a.m. Tuesday on a four-year contract. While details have not yet been released, the union said Tuesday that the agreement includes wage increases over each year of the pact.

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Union president Dan Hurley also said a compromise was reached on changes in health insurance benefits, a major sticking point in the talks. Entergy, based in Louisiana, has asked Pilgrim workers to accept one of its three national insurance plans.

“But what’s good in the bayou is not good in Plymouth,” said Hurley, citing higher health costs in the Northeast. Workers now pay 25 percent of their insurance costs, he said, while Entergy’s new plans would require them to pay more.

Entergy spokeswoman Carol Wightman said the company would not comment on details of the tentative agreement while ratification is pending.

Robert Smith, Pilgrim’s site vice president, praised the tentative agreement Tuesday. “We appreciate the hard work of both parties to get to this point and believe this proposal represents fair and equitable terms both for our employees and the company,” Smith said.

The union’s 242 members, who make up about 90 percent of Pilgrim’s workforce, have been off the job since Entergy implemented what it termed a contingency plan this month.

At the time, the company said that since the union reserved the right “to walk off the job at any time, without any notice, and leave the nuclear power plant critically understaffed,” the union employees were being replaced by qualified management staffers and workers from other Entergy plants.

Some critics, including US Representatives William Keating and Edward Markey, said union members’ jobs were being performed by untrained replacement workers and that public safety was being compromised as a result.

Entergy maintained that there were no safety issues.

Management staff is “rarely a substitute for the sort of practical, hands-on experience the locked-out workers possess,” the two Democrats wrote in a letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission earlier this month.

Federal regulators recently voted to extend the 40-year-old plant’s operating license for another 20 years after a lengthy review, despite concerns by local nuclear watchdogs and state officials. In urging the license renewal, NRC staff said Pilgrim has a strong safety record.

The union workers, who have maintained a picket line outside the plant in Plymouth’s Manomet section since the lockout began, will have from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to vote on the proposed contract. If they vote to ratify the deal, most will be available to go back to work Thursday.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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