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Laborers' Union hasn't worked at Pilgrim nuclear station in weeks due to conflict over contract

Jennette Barnes
Andrew Marshall, business manager of Local 721 of the Laborers' International Union of North America, tells the state panel on the decommissioning of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station that members of the union haven't been able to work at Pilgrim since a conflict occurred over a new labor agreement. At right is David Noyes, a compliance manager at Holtec Decommissioning International, who spoke on behalf of the company.

Union laborers say they’ve been locked out of their jobs at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station for several weeks over something that happened at a national meeting with the owner, Holtec, in Washington, D.C.

Two members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America spoke Monday at a meeting of the state-appointed panel on Pilgrim, the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel.

“We're locked out,” said Scott Gustafson, regional organizing director for the union and a Plymouth resident. “Our families are locked out. You have people who are going to lose their homes.”

Union laborers have been working on the decommissioning of the nuclear plant, which closed in 2019.

“We wanted to do it right,” he said. “We wanted to do it safe, so that everybody in this room could sleep better at night knowing that was getting done right.”

The company disagrees with the union’s characterization of the situation as a lockout.

Until recently, Holtec was performing its decommissioning work at the plant as a joint venture with another company. But Holtec transferred that work to a wholly owned subsidiary.

Jennette Barnes
Olivia Michaud, a fisherman on vessels out of Sandwich and Plymouth, told the NDCAP that people's livelihoods will be harmed if the public doesn't want to eat fish from Cape Cod Bay. She also said currents in the bay may not be sufficient to flush out contaminants.

The switch from Comprehensive Decommissioning International to Holtec Decommissioning International, or HDI, required new labor agreements for five unions, according to David Noyes, compliance manager at HDI.

“It's important to understand, the term lockout does not apply here,” he said at the meeting Monday. “This is a craft union that does not have a contract to work on site.”

Four bargaining units – but not the laborers – signed agreements within the time allotted, he said.

“This is not an issue that HDI has with the local,” he said. “This is a national issue.”

Noyes is a longtime Pilgrim employee who worked at the plant under its previous owner, Entergy.

Andrew Marshall, business manager for Local 721 of the laborers, said replacement workers coming into Pilgrim through another union have no experience in a nuclear setting. He claimed many are failing a drug test or background check.

“They're having a less than 50 percent success rate getting people access into the plant, never mind performing work,” he said. “They can't even get them a badge to get through security.”

Noyes countered remarks by Marshall and Gustafson by saying that properly qualified people are performing the work at the plant, without exception.

“Will you just stop crying ‘fire’ in a crowded theater?” he said.

Marshall and Gustafson said the talks in Washington didn’t go well; both described the problem as “hurt feelings” on the part of Holtec. They said the union wants to sign the agreement and put people back to work.

In an interview after Monday’s meeting, Noyes said he didn’t attend the Washington talks and doesn’t know what happened.

“I just know that the representatives of HDI went to the meeting in Washington with the intention of being able to work through issues,” and they came back without a contract with the laborers, he said.

Jennette Barnes
Protestors against Holtec's proposal to release radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay from the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station stand on Court Street in Plymouth, in front of Town Hall, before Monday's meeting of the state panel on the Pilgrim decommissioning.

Laborers’ Union members stood outside the Plymouth town offices before the Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel meeting on Monday. The union brought a truck with light-up panels that displayed “Shame on Holtec” and other messages.

About 35 local activists who oppose Holtec’s proposed release of radioactive water into Cape Cod Bay held signs for an hour before going into the meeting.

Among them were some new faces, including commercial fisherman Olivia Michaud, who fishes out of Sandwich and Plymouth. She said radioactive material in Cape Cod Bay would put livelihoods at risk.

“No one's going to want to eat anything that has radioactive material in it, so there goes all the fishing, everyone's fishing career, everyone's family that depends on that,” she told the panel. “And that's kind of scary.”

She said she has witnessed the “dead zone” of low oxygen and dead animals that has occurred in the bay in the last three summers, and she questioned whether water circulation in the bay would be enough to flush contaminants.

“If there is not even enough tide and current and storms to stir up water at the bottom of the bay, it's never going to get out,” she said.

Paul Quintal, owner of Plymouth Cruises, also spoke against the release of radioactive water.

“I would ask this panel, and the many other experts that are listening, to ensure that radioactive contaminated water does not get released into Cape Cod Bay,” he said. “Not one drop.”

Noyes took issue with the use of the word “dumping” by activists and others to describe Pilgrim’s plans. He said the controlled discharge of water containing radioactive material has been scientifically studied and is part of the plant’s license.