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Owner says strike wouldn't stop NY nuke plant

Jim Fitzgerald, Associated Press

RYE BROOK, N.Y. (AP) -- The owner of the Indian Point nuclear power plant said Friday that managers will keep the plant running even if its largest union goes on strike or is locked out.

But the union said that using substitutes to run two reactors in the New York suburbs would be "a wild gamble."

The union's contract was to expire at midnight Friday, and the two sides were meeting with federal mediators in a hotel conference room about 20 miles from the plant.

John Melia, spokesman for Local 1-2 of the Utility Workers of America, said talks bogged down Thursday night after plant owner Entergy Nuclear made an "insulting and regressive" offer on wages and benefits.

He said the union's 395 members, including control room workers, radiation safety workers and maintenance workers, hoped to avoid a strike.

"Strikes are bad, but it's the tool we have," he said.

He said members' hourly wages range from $40 to $60.

Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi would not characterize management's latest offer. He said, "We're working hard to reach an agreement and will continue to do so today."

In the past, labor talks at Indian Point have commonly gone past the deadline before ending with an agreement. The last strike there was in 1983, when the two reactors were separately owned and workers at Indian Point 2 walked out on Con Edison for nine weeks. The plant remained open.

Nappi would not comment on the possibility of a lockout, saying only that in the event of a strike or lockout, "We are prepared to operate the plant in any event using non-union personnel."

In June 2012, Entergy locked out 242 union workers at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, Mass., when their contract expired. An agreement was reached after four weeks. A few months later, the company locked out union security workers at its plant near Port Gibson, Miss. That lockout lasted nearly seven weeks.

Melia said, "The stakes are a little higher here," referring to the plant's location 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan and Entergy's application for new 20-year licenses for the reactors.

Hearings on the licensing are underway, with New York state opposing the bid.

"God forbid they try to lock us out, with the scrutiny they're under," Melia said.

Nappi said Entergy would not hire replacement workers for a strike or lockout, instead using its own supervisors and managers, "many of whom have worked these same jobs in the past."

One local politician expressed doubt that would be safe.

"If there is a strike, Entergy should close Indian Point and not endanger the public by trying to run the plant understaffed and without the expertise of their everyday workers," said state Assemblyman Tom Abinanti.

Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said the commission had inspected Entergy's contingency plans and found no problems. But he said the NRC would send extra inspectors to the plant for around-the-clock oversight "to make sure it runs safely."

"We want to make sure the substitutes are fully qualified," he said.