AIKEN - Unionized laborers at Savannah River Site, worried about losing work at the nuclear reservation, continue to protest the hiring of a New York company that plans to use out-of-state workers.
They say the Department of Energy's decision to hire the Krog Corp., of Orchard Park, N.Y., to build a waste storage facility worth as much as $60 million represents the start of a troubling trend.
"We feel like this is just a pilot program for DOE to do the same thing for every job that comes out there," said Dennis Rocque, the secretary and treasurer of the Augusta Building and Construction Trades Council.
Members of 14 unions have picketed at the site every day for about two weeks.
"We'll probably be out there for the duration of the job, or until somebody sits down to talk to us," Mr. Roque said.
The Krog Corp. told union members it will bring in outside work for the project, estimated to take more than a year to complete, but, Mr. Rocque said, it has not returned calls to discuss the issue.
A telephone message seeking comment was not returned.
The Westinghouse Savannah River Co. has operated the site for the DOE since it took control from DuPont in 1989. Bechtel Savannah River Co., its primary construction subcontractor, has labor agreements with the unions.
To the displeasure of the unions, however, the DOE hints that it's heading in another direction.
"We'll be looking at a variety of different ways to do work," DOE spokesman Rick Ford said, "which would include contracting to a number of different firms."
Westinghouse's contract with the DOE expires at the end of 2006, and the department won't start accepting bid proposals until about March next year, Mr. Ford said. The DOE remains noncommittal about whether it will use one contractor, divide responsibilities at the site among a small number of contractors or hire companies on a project-by-project basis, as it did with Krog.
The unions' contract with Bechtel states that unionized workers will be considered for all work the company performs, said Bruce Cadotte, a spokesman for Westinghouse.
Bechtel has employed more than 4,400 unionized workers during its history at the site. Right now, it employs fewer than 600, Mr. Cadotte said.
If Bechtel were to leave the site, jobs could become even more scarce for the unions. An executive presidential order in 2001 said that government departments, including DOE, were not required to consider union contracts.
Officials at SRS, however, can keep union workers from entering the site's secured gates, Mr. Rocque said.
"Out here in the real world, I can ... organize those workers," he said.
Union representatives say the community loses out when out-of-state workers are brought in. They don't pay taxes or invest their money in the community, as local workers would, they argue.
The DOE chose the Krog Corp. over Graves Construction Services Inc. in Jackson, which said it would have used local union workers to fill the 130-plus jobs needed for the project.
Graves protested the selection to no avail.
"All these years we've supported the plant," said Lawton Johnson, the assistant business manager for the Operating Engineers Local 470 in Aiken.
"Here, now, they're not even saying thank you."
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