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Texas Nuclear Workers Win First Contract


August 24, 2011

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For more than two decades, Kevin Smith has been part of the lynchpin of safety at South Texas Project’s nuclear power station. A member of a tight-knit team of performance technicians, Smith and his co-workers carefully test and re-test systems such as HVAC and fire protection throughout the sprawling facility that helps power nearly 2 million homes along the Gulf Coast.

In that time, he’s seen many colleagues in different departments – like maintenance and radiation protection – vote for IBEW representation with Houston Local 66 and win better wages and working conditions. But until recently, he and his crew still lacked a solid voice on the job. Unfair treatment by some lower-level managers was hurting morale and causing unnecessary challenges for his 12-man crew.

Said Smith:

We’re professionals, and we were looking for more professionalism and real leadership from our supervisors. I know many people in other parts of the plant who were already with the IBEW, so I knew it was a good way to go.

Last year, workers reached out to Local 66 Business Representative Bruce Bettilyon, who said the process – from signing cards to getting an NLRB-certified election – was easier than any campaign he’d previously done:

We already have about 300 members at STP, and lately the company has really shown signs of striving to improve labor relations. This campaign was far from adversarial, and management was mostly fair throughout the process.”

The workers voted overwhelmingly for representation last October. They proceeded to negotiations over the next several months.  IBEW representatives and their bargaining committee successfully lobbied for wage increases, longevity pay, more clearly defined supervisory procedures and greater employee input on scheduling. The unit unanimously approved its first contract in June.

Since then, the performance techs say they’ve been welcomed by the rest of the IBEW members and that the experience has fostered a more productive work environment around the shop. Said Smith:

The way things are progressing, I think people are going to be pretty happy with the route we’ve gone. And if we can get more groups around the plant to join the union, we’ll all be better off. Since the IBEW has gotten so many new members here over the past few years, I think that shows that we know what the union can do for us.

New shop steward Shawn Sieben, an 11-year employee, said that he appreciates “the reassurance that I have the support of our hundreds of members behind me now, if I need to go into the office and have a crucial conversation about how the employees are being treated.”

Bettilyon offered appreciation to other union leaders instrumental in the effort, including Local 66 Executive Board Member and STP Unit Chairman Mark Griffin, Region 4 Organizer Kitty Prouse and Local 66 Business Representative/Organizer Michael Mosteit.

Bettilyon said other companies could take cues from STP:

The best thing about this experience is that it shows how organizing campaigns and contract negotiations don’t have to be adversarial, and building on respect between workers and the company can make things better for both groups.


Photo used under a Creative Commons License from Flickr user andypowe11.