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Workers at Oswego County Nuclear Plants Head Back to Work
By Dave Bullard
Oswego, NY – There was laughter at the Oswego Elks Club, the kind of laughter that marks the end of a period of heavy stress. More than 400 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had just voted on a contract offer from Constellation Nuclear, the owner of the Nine Mile One and Nine Mile Two nuclear power plants.
Two weeks before, workers voted down what the company called its last, best and final offer.
They left their jobs and took up positions outside the plant, on strike, without pay or benefits.
The two sides stayed apart for many days before finally holding a one-day session. That session produced a new offer. And that's what workers voted on tuesday.
"It's a four year contract with two percent raises each year, and a lot of pension issues were covered," said Sue Sweeney, union recording secretary. "That was a big sticking point with the strike."
83 percent of union members voted for the new contract, ending the strike and making members like Ken Churchill happy.
"Very happy. Glad it got through," said Churchill. "I'm glad we proved a point, made a stand, got some stuff back and we're happy. We're going back to work."
Constellation Nuclear said in a statement that it welcomed back its union workers. The plant kept on producing power during the strike. Non-union managers did the jobs of the union strikers, though not all of the jobs in the plant were being performed. The company said it handled priority jobs. Inspectors for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission looked over the shoulders of the replacements to make sure the plant was being operated safely. No incidents were reported.
Now, workers go back to their jobs, but not all at once. Constellation says it will bring back workers in batches of 60 to 100 to achieve what the company says is a safe transfer of jobs.
"It's going to take a little time," said Ted Skerpon, the union's business manager. "Obviously as any strike goes I'm hoping there's no ill feeling, but we'll do what we have to do to get over that and get back to work and do our job and be professional as we were through this whole process," said Skerpon.
State Senator Patty Ritchie showed up at the Elks Club after the vote was complete. She was in Oswego for other business and stopped in to find out the results.
She and State Assemblyman Will Barclay had involved themselves in the strike, urging both sides to resume talking. Because there was always more to this than just a labor dispute.
Oswego County is home to three nuclear plants and it would like to have a fourth.
Constellation has considered building Nine Mile Three, going so far as to begin the licensing process with the federal government. The license application was put on hold after Constellation won concessions to build a plant in Maryland instead. Local officials worried that a long, bitter strike would damage hopes for a fourth plant. Ritchie was as relieved as the workers at the outcome.
"I think the fact that everyone is going back to work and that everyone was able to give a little bit that everyone is a winner today," said Ritchie.