The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has petitioned federal labor officials for a vote to create a 450-person union at the Millstone nuclear station in Waterford, which now has no collective bargaining among nearly 1,200 employees.
A vote could happen this summer. IBEW Local 457, which also represents about 700 Connecticut Light & Power employees, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board after collecting a required number of signatures of employees seeking the balloting.
Millstone workers covered under the petition include operations employees, skilled trades, maintenance, testing technicians and others — 25 job classifications at both reactor units that are still active, according to John Fernandes, business manager of Local 457.
Employees have held votes on whether to form a union at least twice in recent years. That gives hope to Dominion Resources Inc., the Richmond, Va.-based company that bought Millstone in 2000 from a group headed by CL&P, that workers will again reject the bid.
“Dominion respects the rights of its employees to organize, but we believe the best way for us to move forward at Millstone is in a non-union environment where we can work together on an individual and personal basis,” Dominion spokesman Ken Holt said in a prepared statement.
This time is different, said Fernandes, whose union lost a bid to organize at Millstone in 2001.
“What they call ‘austerity programs’ are just taking from the workforce,” Fernandes said. “They’ve been stripping from their benefits, the workforce is not as hefty as it once was…they’re making money but they don’t went to share it with their employees.”
Millstone workers approached the union earlier this year, Fernandes said. “They’ve had enough.”
He declined to say how many signatures IBEW collected other than to say it was a “strong majority.” At least 30 percent is required to petition for a union vote.
The main issues are job security and benefits, Fernandes said — same as with other high-skill unions such as the linemen that IBEW represents at CL&P.
Dominion supplements its local workforce with outside contractors, which is fine for specialized work such as repairs, Fernandes said, but he added, “on a regular basis, they should have their own people.”
Most but not all of the affected workers are paid by the hour, eligible for overtime, Fernandes said. Pay, in general, is not a big dispute at Millstone.
“We have a very talented workforce and that’s reflected in their pay,” Holt said.
The petition represents one of the largest organizing efforts in Connecticut in recent years and it sets up a battle that’s becoming more common in organized labor: highly paid workers concerned not about pay but job security and broader issues.
A hearing is scheduled later this month at the NLRB office to determine whether the 450 employees are properly categorized as a bargaining unit. Holt declined to say whether Dominion would fight to petition — the company has done so in the past, Fernandes said — and if the unit is approved, a vote would be scheduled within 45 days.
The subtext here, which Dominion would probably not say in so many words, is that these workers are not, in management’s opinion, the sort that should be organized in unions. Their jobs in many cases are unique, and they, along with management, must have tremendous flexibility to quickly solve problems. If that means assigning someone to a task that’s not in a job description, so be it — it’s part of the modern economy.
That’s the management argument, and it’s true that flexibility can mean more efficiency. But workers higher up the skill and pay chain may organize into unions when they fulfill their end of the bargain without seeing respect and gaining security from the large companies making the demands.
We’ll see at Millstone whether the equation has changed since the last vote in the mid-2000s, when a different union tried to organize this group.