The IBEW has represented thousands of nuclear energy workers over the years, usually in either the construction or utility branches.
But in 2016, Manchester, N.H., Local 2320 leaders saw a different group of nuclear workers in need of a voice on the job.
Local 2320 is primarily a telecommunications local, so organizing 126 security workers at the nearby Seabrook Nuclear Plant wasn’t the most natural fit. Two years later, those same members are thrilled with their choice. They’re also among the region’s most visible and outspoken in the fight to keep the Seabrook plant open and serving their community for years to come, Business Manager Steve Soule said.
“There are pressures on power generators because of societal desires to go to alternative forms of energy and the overall need for more power anyway,” Soule said. “These members can talk to other community members and remind them these plants provide good-paying local jobs in a very competitive industry. They provide a sustainable power source that’s clean.”
The security workers are employed by G4S security services, a contractor working for plant owner NextEra Energy Sources. They had been represented by smaller unions in the past, but Bob Coffill, a nuclear security officer at the plant who now serves as a chief steward for the G4S employees, said there was little local presence. The security personnel felt like they had little representation if there was a conflict with management.
“We’ve been beat up every which way,” he said. “To have actual representation is kind of new to our members.”
They voted to accept Local 2320’s representation in January 2017. A first contract was approved by the newly-organized members in January 2018.
“Having that huge international backing that the local gave convinced us this was the best way to go,” Coffill said. “One of the best parts of having 2320 is they are 25 minutes away. If anything major happens, it’s just a phone to call get some help.
“We went from having virtually no representation to being fully represented,” he added. “It’s like night and day. I don’t know what more we could ask for.”
It’s also been a huge boost for Local 2320, Soule said. Many of the new members are active in the community and they’ve been out front in voicing support for the plant, whose future was in some doubt as other nuclear facilities around the country wind down toward closure or have already shut down. Local 2320’s new members have been visible at public hearings and speaking to local media about Seabrook’s importance.
In March, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued approvals that likely will extend Seabrook’s operating license until 2050.
“They can talk to other community members about it,” said Soule, who joined with other IBEW leaders in New England to write a letter to the Manchester newspaper explaining Seabrook’s importance. “They know that Seabrook is an important part of this region.”
IBEW members helped build the plant, located about 40 miles north of Boston and 10 miles south of Portsmouth, N.H., through its completion in 1986, but the IBEW does not currently represent any other workers there apart from the security personnel.
Because of their IBEW membership, the newly-organized workers were able to negotiate access to the NECA/IBEW Family Medical Care Plan. That not only provided quality health care, it cut their average annual medical costs by about one-third, Soule said.
Combined with wage increases negotiated into the 2018 contract, the newly-organized members will see their salaries rise by an average of 16 percent before the contract expires in 2022. They also have a stronger voice at the table.
“Steve and Jim [Golden, an assistant business manager and executive board member] have been very receptive and very thorough in researching whatever grievances we have and taking them to the highest level,” he said.
The new members understand the importance of brotherhood, too. They sent gift cards to linemen and members of Manchester Local 1837 when they were on strike against New Hampshire Electric Cooperative in May 2018. [The strike lasted two weeks before both sides agreed on a new 3 ½-year contract.] They also conducted a Toys for Tots drive that raised more than $1,000 in cash and gifts for children in need at Christmas time.
It might have looked like an odd marriage to outsiders at first. But so far, it’s been a highly successful one – all because both sides saw that IBEW membership benefits everyone.
“You recognize the member as a customer,” Soule said. “That customer service mentality is what brought this group to us, and they’ve been a fantastic addition to our local.”