Operators of the Pilgrim Nucear Station, on strike and locked out of the plant for more than a month, ratified a new contract Sunday.
They walked into a conference room at the Radisson Hotel on the waterfront, one by one, from 10am to 4pm to cast a yes or no vote. Union officials checked their name as among those who voted with a green underliner. The green proved prophetic as the members approved the agreement 141 to 67.
After the 4pm count, one union leader gave instructions to the people still on the picket line via cell phone: "Pack the van, we're going back to work."
"We are pleased that our workers have voted to accept Entergy’s latest contract offer," union president Dan Hurley said in a prepared statement. "These have been lengthy and difficult negotiations for our workers, who have been locked out of their jobs for over a month and without medical coverage since the beginning of July. Entergy began negotiations with demands for major concessions on healthcare, retirement, salary and staffing, and we fought hard to emerge with important protections for the hardworking men and women who safely run Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant on a daily basis and make the plant extremely profitable for management. Now is the time for us to move forward and our workers are looking forward to returning to their jobs this week.
“The new contract, which came to fruition as a result of a lot of hard work on both sides, reflects our commitment to our employees, is acceptable to our union workers and preserves union interests,” Pilgrim Site Vice President, Robert Smith, said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to our employees returning to work, which has been our goal throughout this process."
Neither side revealed the specifics of the deal, but union members said off the record it involves small percentage pay increases over several years and a helath care plan that involves higher co-pays.
The strike lasted a little more than a month. One picketer recalled a strike against Boston Edison, the company that built the plant, lasting 13 weeks.
Health insurance became a major issue in the negotiations.
"Once you give it up, you never get it back," one striker said.
Some union members paid $2,600 for the month to have health insurance coverage through the COBRA law. The new contract will re-imbursement them for a portion of that expense.
“We now turn our attention to the transition/turnover process and have initiated our Reintegration Plan which is a deliberate process to ensure the qualifications, training and other site requirements of returning employees are current and meet all NRC or procedural requirements," Smith said. "As employees are reintegrated, we will be phasing out our alternate staffing/contingency plan and expect to have all of our union employees back to work this week.”
That reintegration process begins tomorrow morning at Entergy's Chiltonville training center.