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Union worries about loss of quality jobs; more workers live in Lancaster County than in Dauphin

By Dan Miller danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 6/7/17

Three Mile Island is located in southern Dauphin County, but the impact of its closing would be felt throughout a big chunk of south-central Pennsylvania.

Of the plant’s 675 full-time …

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Union worries about loss of quality jobs; more workers live in Lancaster County than in Dauphin

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Three Mile Island is located in southern Dauphin County, but the impact of its closing would be felt throughout a big chunk of south-central Pennsylvania.

Of the plant’s 675 full-time workers, the largest number — 202 — live in Lancaster County, according to figures provided by David Marcheskie, a spokesman for TMI.

Of the rest, 193 TMI employees live in Dauphin County. Of that number, 78 of the full-time workers reside within the 17057 ZIP code that includes the greater Middletown area.

Another 76 TMI employees live in York County, 50 live in Cumberland County, and 43 live in Lebanon County.

The remainder — a little more than 100 — are scattered throughout Perry, Franklin, and other counties throughout the region, Marcheskie said.

Nearly half of the 675 full-time employees who work at Three Mile Island are represented by a union that is based in Middletown.

On Thursday, June 1, leaders and members of Local Union 777 held their first business meeting at the union hall on Pike Street since Tuesday, May 30, when TMI’s parent company Exelon Corp. announced that TMI would be “prematurely retired” by September 2019.

The June 1 get-together wasn’t a special session, in that the meeting had already been scheduled as the local’s regular monthly business meeting.

But it might as well have been a special session, as the meeting was the first chance for the local’s large number of TMI workers to get together and discuss face to face their worries over the prospect of the nuclear plant shutting down in a little over two years.

Known as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 777 or IBEW, the local represents so many full-time workers at TMI that these employees comprise their own “unit,” known as Unit 1, said John Levengood, who is president of IBEW Local 777.

The union represents close to 300 full-time workers at TMI, Levengood said.

These include control room operators, plant maintenance workers, electricians, clerical and administrative workers, utility people who clean the plant, and “all the trades that do manual labor in the plant” of any kind.

Levengood would not provide any figures for how much these people make, other than to describe the positions as “high-paying jobs.”

“It’s not the kind of thing that comes off the street,” Levengood said. The electricians, for example, possess “very technical” skills and most have a large number of certifications that qualify them to work at a nuclear plant.

The union workers run the gamut from those who have worked at TMI for fewer than 10 years, to those who have been at the plant for more than 30 years.

All the workers are concerned, but the nature of their worries depends on where they fall in that continuum of experience.

Many of the newer employees were hoping for a career at the plant. Now all of a sudden, that’s in doubt.

They have been trained to work at a nuclear power plant. “You just don’t leave a nuclear plant and go down the street and work at another one,” Levengood said.

So, many of these younger workers are having to contemplate a total career change outside of the nuclear field. Or, if they can get a job at another nuclear plant, that will mean having to uproot their families and move out of the area.

The concerns may be greatest among those who have been at TMI the longest — the folks in their 50s, perhaps with 30 or more years at the plant.

They are close to retirement, and were hoping to retire from the plant. Now, they are worried over how the plant shutting down in two years could throw a monkey wrench into their retirement plans and benefits.

Many of these workers in their 50s have skills in the trades that are transferable to another field in demand elsewhere in south-central Pennsylvania, Levengood said.

However, there is worry that an employer will pass over someone who is in their 50s, for a younger person who would not cost as much.

The close to 300 TMI workers represented by IBEW 777 live all over the region, Levengood said.

He believes “the majority” live in the Middletown and Londonderry township areas. However, that would seem to conflict with TMI’s own figures from Marcheskie that just 78 of the plant’s 675 workers live within 17057.

Levengood lives in Lebanon County and has worked as an electrician for Metropolitan-Edison for 33 years.

“I know people who have been driving from Lebanon to work at that plant (TMI) since the plant was built,” he said. He knows others who live in the West Shore area of Cumberland County, and in York County.

Exelon’s announcement that it plans to shut down TMI by September 2019 did not come as a total shock, Levengood said.

“We had an idea it was going to come, but we did not know it was going to be this week,” Levengood told the Press & Journal two days after Exelon’s announcement. “They kind of knew the possibility was out there, but they didn’t know when.”

Asked what the union plans to do now, Levengood said IBEW 777 will work with Exelon to try and bring about changes in state policy that Exelon is pushing for, not just to save TMI but the nuclear industry in Pennsylvania in general.

A “public education” campaign is needed to increase public awareness of what the loss of nuclear power would mean in Pennsylvania, Levengood said.

People also need to understand how state subsidies enable generators of wind and solar and other alternative energy sources to “undercut” the nuclear industry, he said.

As Exelon has pointed out, Levengood referred to actions that have been taken by legislatures in Illinois and New York to keep nuclear plants open by establishing a zero emissions credit program.

“We are by no means saying anything negative about other energy sectors” such as wind and solar, Levengood said. “There is a place for wind, solar, and everything else, but we need to have a diversified energy stream that can provide reliable power into the grid so we don’t worry about the loss of supply.”

“All we want to do is try and get legislation on the same level as everyone else. We’re going to be pushing to have legislation in Pennsylvania like other states to preserve these plants and get them some relief.”

Levengood contends that among the ripple effects of losing TMI is that it would make it harder for the region to attract manufacturing, because manufacturers seek to be close to major power sources.

On the other hand, TMI is at a greater disadvantage competitively speaking than other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania that are owned by Exelon. TMI as a result of the 1979 accident has just one functioning nuclear reactor, whereas the other plants have two.

Asked if a state legislative remedy will be enough for TMI to overcome this handicap, Levengood said “Without seeing the legislation, it’s hard to say. We are hoping that it does.”

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