Westinghouse Electric has issued a lockout notice to 172 union employees at its New Hampshire nuclear reactor manufacturing facility as a result of a stalemate in negotiations.
The lock out, which took effect May 21, applies to members of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers. The factory in question makes parts for Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor, the technology slated to be used in long-delayed nuclear projects in Georgia and South Carolina.
- Westinghouse said it plans to use “non-represented Westinghouse employees” to keep the factory running and would also use other facilities to meet customer commitments.
Since declaring bankruptcy at the end of March, Westinghouse has had its hands full. The bankruptcy filing was prompted by the delays and cost overruns at two projects being built using the Pittsburgh-based company’s AP1000 reactors.
Work continues on those projects under an interim agreement, but the longer term outlook is unclear.
On May 12, Southern Co. reached a deal with Westinghouse to take over construction of its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia and similar negotiations are ongoing with owners of the Summer nuclear project in South Carolina. If the utilities have to complete construction themselves, executives have indicated they will consider abandoning the plants and replacing them with other resources.
Westinghouse's Newington, N.H., factory makes the reactor vessel barrel and other parts for new AP1000 plants. Disruptions in that supply chain could further complicate construction.
Westinghouse began negotiations with the Boilermakers in April. The contract between the nuclear company and the union expired at the end of April, but work continued under an extension agreement. Both parties then engaged in a mediation process, but it was not successful.
“Westinghouse put forth its best and final offer given the current very serious business conditions. As the Boilermakers were not willing to accept the offer, the company made the difficult decision to invoke a lockout,” Michele DeWitt, interim senior vice president for nuclear fuel and components manufacturing, said in a statement, adding that the company remains “hopeful we will reach an agreement that is in the best interest of all parties.”
Union members, however, say Westinghouse is trying to cut costs by freezing pensions and reducing severance and healthcare benefits.
“We feel that they’re being opportunistic with this bankruptcy,” Duane Egan, chief steward for local 651 at Newington, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He said the union is willing to forego wage increases, but the contract Westinghouse is offering “strips us of most of our benefits, and we’re not agreeable to that.”
Further discord is likely in the coming months as Westinghouse begins negotiations with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at its plant in Blairsville, Penn., and with members of the Association of Salaried Westinghouse Employees.