Vt. Union Leaders Rally for Power Plant, Jobs
January 27, 2010
Leaders of 15 building trades unions held a press conference this month to send a message to the Vermont state legislature: Keep Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant open.
Lawmakers are expected to vote this session on whether or not to extend the license for the Vernon-based facility beyond 2012.
For Montpelier Local 300 members, the key issue is jobs.
“Closing Vermont Yankee would effectively squash hundreds of union jobs that pay wages far exceeding the norm for our area,” said Local 300 President George Clain. “Eliminating these careers is not in the best interests of working Vermonters.”
Reactor operator and Local 300 member Michelle Joy is one of nearly 160 IBEW members employed full-time at the facility. Joy said that if the plant closes, she and her husband may have no choice but to leave the state in search of work.
“People at the plant are uncertain of their futures and don’t like not knowing what’s going to happen,” Joy said. “The workers at Vermont Yankee are very active in the community. We spend our money here – we have strong ties here. I’m really involved at the high school where I coach cheerleading. It’s upsetting to think about having to leave.”
Operated by Louisiana-based Entergy, Vermont Yankee is a 650-megawatt plant that employs nearly 700 workers. Providing more than one-third of the state’s electricity at the lowest costs in New England, the 38-year-old plant is part of the reason Vermont has one of the smallest carbon footprints in the nation.
If the facility closes, labor leaders say that rate payers could see a 15 to 30 percent hike in energy prices – and two-thirds of the work force could be gone within six months.
“Our members have logged thousands of hours at the facility since it opened,” said Jeff Potvin, business manager of UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 693 and president of the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council. “Clearly, the subcontracting opportunities available at Vermont Yankee are immense. They all pay above-average wages, health care and retirements benefits, and are vital to the regional economy. The economic benefits are a big reason why the state’s construction unions support re-licensing Vermont Yankee.”
Environmental concerns are prompting lawmakers to question whether they will re-license the plant. Vermont’s state legislature has the final word on whether the nuclear facility’s license gets renewed. In all other states, utility regulators and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission decide licensing matters.
Entergy recently launched the “I Am Vermont Yankee” campaign, which showcases workers’ stories and provides quick facts on the facility’s positive financial impacts in the community. Building trades leaders and advocates are also urging Vermonters to contact their state representatives to show their support for the plant’s employees.
Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Topato.