An emergency planning drill scheduled for this week at the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth was postoponed by plant officials, escalating tensions between Entergy Corp. and locked-out union workers who are already embroiled in a bitter contract negotiation.
Entergy locked nearly 250 union workers out of the plant at midnight on June 5 after their contract expired. Entergy owns and operates 11 nuclear power plants, including Pilgrim, around the nation and manages a plant in Nebraska, according to a spokeswoman.
To fill in for the locked-out workers, the plant has utilized employees from other plants and temporary contractors.
“By having untrained workers in there, and not preparing them for emergencies, it’s disgusting,” said Dan Hurley, president of the Utility Workers Union of America Local 369. “It just shows you that they put profits over the safety of the workers and the safety of the community.”
The emergency planning drill, which was scheduled for Wednesday, is held quarterly and puts workers through simulated emergency scenarios.
“It’s a critical drill. It’s akin to being on a cruise and having a lifeboat drill,” said Hurley. “It’s critical in the event there’s an emergency you need to know what to do.”
A spokeswoman for Entergy said that the drill was simply postponed, though a new date has not been set.
“These are routine drills that we conduct throughout the year,” said spokeswoman Carol Wightman. “The reason that this particular one was postponed was so we could focus all our resources on the safe operation of the Pilgrim station.”
Wightman said that while the drill is important, it is not critical. It is not uncommon for a drill to be rescheduled, she said.
She disputed the union’s characterization of the plant as understaffed, and said the nuclear plant meets all Nuclear Regulatory Commission safety standards.
The plant is staffed by about two-thirds of the regular workers, and the temporary workers, said Wightman, are “all fully qualified emergency response personnel. Our top priority is the safe operation of Pilgrim Station.”
Contract negotiations between Entergy and the union stalled over questions of health care, safety, and staffing, according to the union. Wightman said the contract was set to expire at midnight on May 15, but was extended twice.
Hurley said union workers are picketing outside the plant “24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
The union, he said, has also filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Entergy, alleging that the company made “coercive, threatening” statements to workers before a contract vote in June in an attempt to influence the outcome. The union is also charging that Entergy-employed security forces are trying to intimidate picketing workers by video- and audio-taping them outside of Pilgrim.
Wightman said the company is aware of the charge, but declined to comment on it, saying Entergy is reviewing it.Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.