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Nuclear Commission May Allow Employers to “Fire a Union-represented Employee Without Cause”

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Nuclear power plant owners want the right to take away workers’ security clearance, or “unescorted access authorization,” without arbitration. In a three-to-one vote on June 6, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a recommendation to rewrite the current rules so that employers can revoke employee clearance without review. But without clearance, workers would be effectively prevented from working at a plant:

“This is really a question of whether or not an employer can unilaterally fire a union-represented employee without cause,” said IBEW Utility Department Director Jim Hunter. “If this NRC rule goes through, a plant owner or manager who doesn’t like the way an employee is looking at him could not only fire that person, but they can effectively make sure they never work in the nuclear industry again.”

At present, a union can file a grievance if an employee’s access is revoked. If the complaint goes unresolved, it goes to neutral third-party arbitration.

Though the recent vote is merely a recommendation to begin the rule-making process, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers leaders are mobilizing for their second fight on the issue in three years:

“Having your unescorted access authorization cancelled is essentially a career-ender,” said Downers Grove, Ill., Local 15 assistant business manager Bill Phillips, who represents nearly 1,600 employees at five Exelon nuclear plants. “Whether the employer had a good reason or not, no other nuclear plant is going to give you a job after that. You’re flagged in a federal database, and if the plant owners get their way, we’ll have no way to challenge that.”

Support from 30 Senators and 133 Congressmen is cause for optimism. So are the words of NRC Chairman Stephen G. Burns, who wrote: “My approval of rulemaking initiation does not come without reservations. I have yet to be convinced on the merits that a change to our regulations is warranted.”

The IBEW knows better than to casually wait and see what happens next:

“It’s nice to hear that we may get to have some conversations with NRC staff as this process moves forward,” Jerry said, “but we can’t let our guard down on this for a second. The changes the nuclear industry is talking about affect people’s lives and can end their careers, not to mention the fact that a rule change would completely undermine the collective bargaining process. As far as we’re concerned, the system is working right now, and we’re going to fight as hard as we have to to protect our members.”


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