Union leaders are accusing the Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. of using taxpayer money to fund a campaign to derail an union organizing effort at the Knolls Atomic Power Lab.
Paul Shearon, the secretary-treasurer of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, claims Bechtel is paying anti-union attorney Ray Pascucci to dissuade workers from voting in favor of the union effort later this month. He said the company is in direct violation of an executive order issued by President Barack Obama that prohibits government contractors from using taxpayer resources to discourage workers from organizing.
Knolls is funded solely by the U.S. Department of Energy.
“Unfortunately Bechtel has made a calculated decision to frustrate their employees’ desire to form a union by allocating congressionally appropriated taxpayer dollars to engage in anti-union tactics,” Shearon wrote in a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu dated Thursday. “Union busting behavior such as this is reprehensible, whether it be at KAPL … or any other employer. However, this is particularly malicious when you consider that the KAPL budget is completely supported by taxpayer resources.”
Shearon asked the Obama administration to request Bechtel provide an accounting of “taxpayer resources on union busting activities” and to direct that the energy department ensures the company complies with the executive order in the future. In addition, he demanded Bechtel refrain from any future effort at dissuading workers from unionizing.
An official with KAPL denied the allegations of union busting, claiming that the company has followed the letter of the law by allowing its employees to organize. Spokesman Gene Terwilliger said Bechtel remains committed to working with its employees, whether they are unionized or not.
“[Bechtel] is not engaged in anti-union activities and has acted appropriately and ethically with our employees who are interested in forming a union,” he said in a statement released Tuesday. “We are committed to, and believe that we have, good relations with each of the unions that represent portions of KAPL’s employee population.”
Late last month, about 140 specialists and technicians at KAPL signed a petition to the National Labor Relations Board asking to conduct a union vote. Workers cited a dissatisfaction with Bechtel, which took over managing KAPL from Lockheed Martin three years ago.
Local 147 already represents about 75 workers at KAPL, including its draftsmen and designers. Organizers claim hundreds of other workers — including engineers and administrative staff — have also signed petitions due to conditions at KAPL.
Bechtel also operates the Kesselring facility in West Milton and the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in Pennsylvania. The facilities design nuclear reactors and train operators for the Navy.
Organizers claim the company started requiring workers to attend captive audience meetings last month, where the union was portrayed in a negative light. During the meetings, they indicated the company depicted the union as a third party that would interfere with operations and falsely represented the voluntary nature of membership.
“There’s a lot of fear tactics that are built into their misleading answers,” said Charlie Trembley, president of Local 147.
But Terwilliger insists Bechtel is simply fulfilling its contractual and legal obligations. He said it’s the company’s responsibility to keep workers informed of their options so they understand what the union effort could mean for them.
“We are communicating directly with our employees to provide them factual information and answer their questions,” he said. “We recognize that they are approaching an important decision, and we are encouraging them to be involved in the process and vote.”
The KAPL workers are scheduled to vote Feb. 29.
Contacted Tuesday, Shearon said he hasn’t received a response from Chu or the Obama administration but has arranged a meeting with U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, to discuss the situation next week. He blasted Bechtel for spending money on the attorney during a time when all government agencies are being asked to save.
“It’s difficult to put a number on it,” he said about the legal fees, describing it as “certainly not unusual for it to add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”