On May 12, 2011, as Rick Bonnett stood in line to cast his vote to join the UWUA, he reflected on how difficult the journey had been. In his 19 years, Rick, an instruments and controls technician at Entergy’s Palisades Nuclear Plant, had seen much, and been through more — from working with his original employer, Consumers Energy, to working under a contract management company called Nuclear Management Company, to now working for Entergy, one of the largest utilities in the industry.
A good job gone bad
During these changes, Rick saw what was a great job at a great place to work eroded into a place were the tech employees were subject to the whim of the employer, whether it be compensation, healthcare costs, schedules, overtime, or any number of non-written benefits they enjoyed under their original employer.
Worst of all, Rick felt he and his fellow techs had no voice, no process to object to change. They had a sense that, if they didn’t do something, it was only going to get worse. Rick also noticed that the numerous management and ownership changes had little or no impact on the unionized employees at the plant.
At the same time, Rick reflected back to his early days with Consumers, some 20 years ago, when the UWUA had attempted to organize the group. They came one vote short of unionizing, and Rick couldn’t help but think how different things might be if it were not for that one vote.
But times were different then, Consumers wasn’t treating the techs all that differently than the unionized employees; what the union workers got, the techs got. How were they to know how fast and how much things could change in just a few short years? Rick hoped that this time things would be different.
And they were, on that May day in 2011, 58 technicians at Entergy’s Palisades Nuclear Plant voted 37 to 17 to join the UWUA’s Local 150 under the Michigan Utility Workers Council (MSUWC). With that victory under his belt, Rick joined the contract negotiating committee with two fellow techs, Asa Wallace and Rusty Clock, as well as representatives from Local 150 and the MSUWC.
Rick had been told the company would drag negotiations for a first contract out for a year in the hopes of a decertification vote. When that year came and went, Rick could not know that it would take a full three more years before he would be able to vote on a first contract. During those four years of negotiations, very little progress was made. Rick and his fellow techs on the negotiating committee felt the frustration of negotiations. However, they
never complained and never gave up.
Negotiation session after negotiation session, they would return to their coworkers and report no progress. Still, they were bolstered by the resiliency of their union brothers and sisters who remained patient and committed to the end goal, a good and fair first contact.
The power of the UWUA
Enter the true power of the UWUA. In the spring of 2015, with the existing contract at Palisades set to expire on June 1, the negotiating team for the 130 Operating, Maintenance & Construction members of Local 150 voted to make the inclusion of the tech employees in their contract one of their main demands. And, they asked the tech negotiating committee to join theirs. This turned the tide with the company. Now the union had power, it had leveraged its existing contract to ensure the techs were included. Almost immediately it became clear, the techs would join their fellow unionized coworkers and enjoy the benefits and protections of a union contract.
And on June 18, 2015, the technicians at Palisades voted 45 to 3 to ratify a tentative agreement between the UWUA and Entergy that would not only cover them, but join them with the rest of the unionized employees at Palisades.
“We could have had a contract much sooner but we knew what we wanted and we waited them out. It was worth the wait,” Bonnett says. “We all thank Local 150, they were awesome during negotiations. They were at every one of the meetings and we really appreciate their help and support.”