By MALLORY GRUBEN
Almost 50 union boilermakers in Eastern Washington are losing work because managers at a nuclear energy facility decided to hire an out-of-state contractor to save money.
Boilermakers Local 242 representative Luke Lafley said Columbia Generating Station, a nuclear power plant in Richland, contracted with the Pennsylvania-based Merrick Group to clean, inspect, and repair heat exchangers during a 35-day planned refueling outage. The job requires workers to clean thousands of internal tubes in the 10- to 16-foot diameter vessels with “darts” pushed through by water pressure. Until this year, that work was done by Boilermakers Local 242, Lafley said.
“Our performance has been one of the top of all the trades throughout these refueling outages. We’ve always been on time,” he said. “They claim that only (Merrick’s) people have the expertise to perform this work, but we’ve been doing it for the last 40 years, so why aren’t we qualified now?”
The answer comes down to money, Lafley said. Under their contract, Local 242 boilermakers’ wage and benefits cost about $70. Other workers in the facility told Lafley that the Merrick crew is making about $30 an hour plus travel expenses, like the cost of a hotel room.
Using out-of-state workers saves money for executives at the facility, but it leaves behind skilled local craftsmen and their families, who work and live in the community, and spend their money in the local economy. When the job finishes, the Merrick workers will go back to their home states and spend their salaries there.
“But at the same time, I have boilermakers who are sitting at home collecting unemployment because they can’t work 20 miles from their home,” Lafley said.