Saratoga County NY March 11 2017
Unionized civilian guards at the Kenneth M. Kesselring nuclear training site in Saratoga County say they are being asked to work unsafe, excessive hours for a $200 million upgrade and refueling of a nuclear reactor that could take 30 months.
On Thursday, members of Local 1 of the Professional Security Employees Association (PSEA) picketed outside the Kesselring site to highlight a labor dispute with Bechtel Marine Propulsion, a private contractor that runs the Milton facility for the U.S. Navy.
Local President Michael Nesbitt said Bechtel wants guards, who are responsible for providing armed security, to work potentially large, undefined amounts of involuntary overtime stemming from the planned upgrade of one of the facility's two nuclear reactors. The reactors are used to train U.S. Navy sailors to operate submarines and aircraft carriers.
That project is scheduled to take place from September 2018 to May 2021. A reactor core will be replaced and rebuilt, new uranium fuel added, and spent fuel packaged for removal to a naval disposal facility in Idaho.
"We have concerns that Bechtel wants our heavily armed members working long hours whenever Bechtel deems it is necessary," said Nesbitt. "We are concerned about issues of fatigue and safety."
Nesbitt said the current contract allows for involuntary overtime only in certain cases, such as emergencies and other unplanned events. He said the reactor upgrade does not fall into that category.
Union members first started picketing over the issue last month and members voted to authorize the union's executive board to call a strike if deemed necessary.
Nesbitt said the unionized workers, mainly composed of ex-military and law enforcement personnel, also provide security at the Knolls Atomic Power Labs in Niskayuna. The labor contract between Bechtel and the union expired in May 2016, he said.
Gene Terwilliger, a public affairs officer at Knolls, said both Knolls and Kesselring "remain secure and safe. A full contingent of Security Police Officers continue to perform their duties every day."
He declined to comment on "any details involving ongoing negotiations. We have been and remain ready to meet with the PSEA to clarify issues and negotiate. We look forward to reaching an equitable contract."
Kesselring opened in 1955 during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower to train sailors how to operate nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers.
Since then, more than 50,000 officers, including former President Jimmy Carter, have been trained there.
In 2015, the U.S. Congress approved spending up to $126.4 million to refuel the Kesselring reactor and up to $70 million to dispose of its spent fuel, according to a report by the U.S. Naval Institute.
The project will involve replacing the core of an S8G reactor, adding new uranium fuel rods and removing depleted fuel rods for disposal, according to the notice issued by the Naval Reactors Representative Office of the U.S. Energy Department.
The S8G reactor was designed by General Electric Co. to operate the Ohio-class submarines, which were built for the U.S. Navy from 1976 to 1997.
The Navy currently operates 18 Ohio-class submarines, which carry inter-continental ballistic nuclear missiles.