Knolls employees say plant operator interferes with election effort

Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Thursday, February 9, 2012

NISKAYUNA -- Workers trying to unionize at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory have asked the federal government to stop the U.S. Navy plant's private operator from interfering with the effort.

National leaders of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers want the U.S. Energy Department to force Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corp. to cease efforts the union claims are meant to prevent it from prevailing in a planned Feb. 29 election by about 235 workers at the plant.

In a Feb. 2 letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the union claims that Bechtel is violating a 2010 presidential order that prevents using taxpayer money to discourage workers from organizing.

The company took over operation of the plant, which does training and research on naval nuclear reactors, under a federal contract in 2009.

Bechtel denied violating the order, issued just days after President Barack Obama took office in 2009. The company has hired Syracuse attorney Ray Pascucci to consult on legal compliance with labor law issues, according to a spokesman.

Bechtel is "not engaged in anti-union activities," according to a company statement. "We are communicating directly with our employees to provide them factual information ... to ensure that they understand the facts with respect to what the union can and cannot promise them."

Paul Shearon, secretary-treasurer of the union, said the company has been removing union materials from the plant, and has been calling in small groups of workers on company time for sessions at which managers discourage unionization. Workers remain clocked in for the session under regular work hours, so there is no payroll record of the anti-union meetings, he said.

"These workers should be allowed to vote without interference and attempted intimidation from management," said Shearon. He said union officials are scheduled to meet next week with Rep. Paul Tonko, an Amsterdam Democrat.

The union already represents about 80 designers and draftsmen at the plant. Technical workers are seeking to unionize because of dissatisfaction with Bechtel, which took over plant operation from another contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp. Issues include a salary freeze, ordered by DOE, that runs through 2013; changes in pay frequency, reduction in pension benefits and management efficiency.

Shearon questioned Bechtel's hiring of Pascucci, who specializes in labor relations law at the firm of Bond Schoeneck & King and has worked for employers trying to keep workers from joining a union.

For four years in a row, according to the firm's website, Pascucci was named one of the Top One Hundred Labor Lawyers in America by the Labor Relations Institute, a "national organization that provides comprehensive support to employers facing union organizing drives."

In a published 2009 commentary about what he saw as pro-union bias by President Obama, Pascucci wrote about the need for employers to run "an effective information campaign countering the union's message which can be very attractive to the uneducated employee." - 518-454-5094 - @Bnearing10