Thursday, August 1, 2013

Thirty Jobs by Year-End. Vermont Yankee Job Elimination

Thirty Jobs to Be Eliminated at Vermont Yankee

On July 20, I wrote a post Layoffs Possible at Vermont Yankee.  At that time, the best estimations I could get were that 65 jobs would be eliminated at Vermont Yankee.

July 30 was the official announcement. As Susan Smallheer at the Times Argus reported: "Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant will lose 30 of its 650 employees by the end of the year."  It wasn't just chance that the announcement was July 30: that was also the day that Entergy announced its second quarter earnings and had its earnings call.

Jobs Before the End of the Year

Judging from various reports, Entergy announced an initiative called "Human Capital Management" some time ago. They acknowledged that this initiative would lead to workforce reductions. (Snark alert: "Human Capital Management."  Don't you just love these corporate euphemisms?  End snark.) However, until July 30, Entergy did not announce how many jobs would be eliminated.

During the earnings call,  Entergy CEO Leo Denault announced that 800 jobs would be eliminated, company-wide.  After the call, Terry Young, an Entergy Vice President, spoke about the merchant plants, and was quoted by Smallheer:
Indian Point
Young said it would mean the loss of about 30 jobs at Vermont Yankee, and similar losses at Pilgrim Nuclear in Massachusetts — in both cases a 4 percent reduction in the workforce. The FitzPatrick plant in Oswego, N.Y., will lose 35 positions, or about 5 percent.
At the Indian Point nuclear plant outside New York City, which is a two-reactor site, job losses will affect 75 people, a 7 percent cut in the workforce. 

Whose Jobs?

The number of jobs to be eliminated is known at this point: 30 jobs. However, whose job will be eliminated is not yet known.  The Vermont Yankee organization has been redesigned. New organization charts are being distributed.  Current employees will apply for a new position that is a new slot in the organization.

In Terri Hallenbeck's article in the Burlington Free Press:
Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, said he’s spoken with people who work at the plant who were relieved the announced layoffs weren’t higher. “Many of these cuts are going to be attrition,” he said. “I know a lot of folks who are slated to retire. They just won’t be replaced.”
Some people at the plant may be laid off by the end of the year, but attrition and retirement will also eliminate some jobs.  In other words, somewhere between zero and thirty people will actually lose their jobs at the plant by the end of the year. Six hundred and fifty people work at Vermont Yankee.

The Plant Will Stay Safe

Plant opponents have had a field day claiming the plant safety will be compromised by this layoff.   However, the plant will continue to be safe, for three main reasons:
  1. It's a relatively small cut in staffing. By the time retirement and attrition are considered, I suspect that only about 2% of the workforce will actually be cut.  Pretty much any big business can handle this level of reduction.
  2. Entergy is committed to safe operation.  Entergy VP Terry Young was quoted in an article by Andrew Stein at Vermont Digger  "We will pay special attention to ensure the changes we are making do not impact the hands-on, core functions of daily operations of plants, so that there’s no impact on safety and reliability."
  3. The NRC is committed to safe operation. The NRC has seen reorganizations before and knows how to ensure safety during the process. Quoting the Vermont Digger article:  “There have been reorganizations in the past at other U.S. nuclear power plants,” (NRC Spokesman) Sheehan said. “As in those cases, the NRC (continues to use)... our Reactor Oversight Process. …"  The NRC also accepts allegations from any member of the plant staff who has a safety concern.  In other words, the NRC has seen reorganizations before, done this before, and the plants continue to operate safely.
My Conclusion

Job elimination is a painful and miserable process.  I had a hard time writing about it because it is difficult to keep an appropriate tone.

What is the right tone, after all?  I feel a mixture of sadness that this is happening at all, and relief that only a few people will be laid off at the plant. (IBM recently laid off more than 400 people in Vermont.) However, the people who are laid off may be badly affected, because there just aren't that many jobs in Windham County.  It may be hard for people to get another job without moving away. The last thing I want to do is appear as a Pollyanna about this announcement. 

Still, I think that Entergy is committed to continued operation of the plant. Furthermore, the vast majority of people working at the plant (96%) will continue to have jobs. Vermont Yankee has the lowest percentage job reductions of any of Entergy's merchant plants.  And  Vermont Yankee will continue to operate safely.  

I hope I can make these somewhat upbeat statements without being a Pollyanna

(I couldn't find a picture of Pollyanna, so I used Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm instead.)

1 comment:

trag said...

I think your tone was very appropriate. As always, great job.