CORTLANDT, NY — Workers at the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan could go out on strike at midnight Wednesday. While talks are continuing, more than 300 Members of Local 1-2, NY, Utility Workers of America, AFL-CIO took a strike vote in advance of the Jan. 17 expiration of their contract with Entergy, the company that owns Units 1 and 2.
Indian Point, which provides up to a quarter of the electricity for New York City and Westchester County, will cease operations in 2021 under an agreement reached a year ago between Entergy and the principal forces seeking its closure, New York State and environmental watchdog Riverkeeper.
The union represents operations, radiation protection, chemistry and maintenance workers at the plant. It is seeking a new Collective Bargaining Agreement through 2022, which would keep the experienced nuclear plant workers on hand when the shutdown process begins.
“We have been in talks all weekend and anticipate going around the clock for the next two days. So far progress is glacial,” Local 1-2 President James T. Slevin said in a press release Monday.
The union plans a “practice picket” at 3 p.m. Tuesday. Slevin said members hope a show of solidarity “will convince Entergy to do the right thing before it blows a hole in the local economy.”
Meanwhile, Entergy has established a contingency plan to continue with the safe operation of Indian Point in the event of a labor action, said spokesman Jerry Nappi. Management personnel are trained and qualified to fill all of the positions needed to operate the units safely and in accordance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. All important support functions – safety, shift operations, emergency planning and response, and others — would be staffed with the required levels of qualified personnel.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is also preparing for the possible strike, said spokesman Neil Sheehan. “These activities include reviewing Entergy’s strike contingency plans, following the progress of negotiations and readying our own strike contingency plans, which would involve enhanced NRC oversight during a walkout. We have also been observing evaluations of control room crews that would be on duty if a strike were to occur.”
Marilyn Elie, a long time union supporter and a member of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, expressed sympathy for workers at Indian Point.
“It is their careful work that stands between us and a nuclear accident,” she said. She added that Indian Point is going out of business because buyers of wholesale electricity have found cheaper prices elsewhere and the reactors could not compete in a deregulated market.
However, she and Slevin disagreed on one thing: replacing the energy generated by the plant.
“There is no plan in place to replace the clean energy generated for New Yorkers by Indian Point,” he said.
“A replacement plan for Indian Point was put in place by Governor Cuomo in 2012 and has resulted in over 5,000 MW being add to our grid,” she said. She cited a recent report by the Independent System Operator, regulators of the region’s power grid.
The New York Independent System Operator released a report in December analyzing the retirement of the Indian Point nuclear plant and its impacts to the reliability of the electric system. The NYISO report says the region will maintain reliable power if three new power plants come online: CPV Valley Energy Center in Orange County; Cricket Valley in Dover and the Bayonne Energy Center II in New Jersey. The first two face fierce opposition by environmental groups, and Riverkeeper holds that neither is necessary.
Entergy officials stated last year that the decision to close Indian Point was a business choice.
“My members have worked at Indian Point since it began operating more than 40 years ago, and despite the State’s sudden announcement to close Indian Point, we know that there’s a long way to go before Entergy can walk away,” Slevin said Jan. 12.