Nuclear

The Three C’s of Labor Relations for Contractors and Plant Operators

Issue 4 and Volume 7.

By Scean R. Cherry, J.D., Director of Labor Relations, Day & Zimmermann

As the number of both union and non-union craft workers continues to shrink, the nuclear power industry must lean heavily on strategic partners to help find qualified and effective workers. Specifically, when it comes to union workers, contractors that have deep relationships with North America’s Building Trades Unions will be in the best position to provide plants with the workers and services they need, while also managing complex union relationships.

But how are great union relationships built, and more importantly how will they be maintained in the years to come? Ultimately, building these relationships comes down to three “C’s”: communication, collaboration and clarity.

three c's are keys to build and maintain labor relationships
three c’s are keys to build and maintain labor relationships. courtesy: day & zimmermann

Communication

Communication is the key to delivering the highest value in contracting labor for plant maintenance and construction projects. The owner, contractor, and labor must be aligned and share common goals and objectives in order to achieve project excellence. This means the contractor must communicate with labor at all levels, including the project craft stewards, local hall business managers, regional Building Trades Councils, and the international executives of each union. The communication must happen in a way that serves the needs of the plant project and builds long-term productive relationships. Productive labor relations require positive labor relationships. It all begins with effective communication.

Specifically as it relates to communication, implementation of a tripartite meeting process consistently benefits all parties. In this kind of arrangement, contractors meet periodically with the owner and Building Trades Unions to focus on project excellence and get ahead of issues. Common tripartite agenda items often include safety, human performance, pre-project review, post-project review, availability of craft resources, training, industry trends, economic trends, as well as local and national legislation impacting the industry. Many of the tripartites are sponsored by one of the 14 unions of the Building Trades or plant owners.

When everyone is around the same table the opportunities to promote communication for efficient improvements increase. Concerns can be aired and vetted. Cooperation improves when all parties are heard and understood. Post project completion, these meetings are useful in identifying the best practices and areas of improvement. This process builds a trusted, long-term relationship with the owners, contractors, and the Building Trades.

Clarity

In order to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of expectations before beginning any project, it is critical to use national labor agreements such as the General Presidents’ Project Maintenance Agreement (GPPMA) and the National Maintenance Agreement (NMA) to promote efficiency in the utilization of skilled craft labor. These best-in-class labor agreements use consistent terms and conditions that are the same for all Building Trades craft employees on the work site. Having uniform terms and conditions for management rights, union rights, work schedules, overtime hours, holidays, payday, safety rules, etc. eliminates confusion. Another key feature of both the GPPMA and NMA that is attractive to contractors and owners is the prohibition against strikes, lockouts, or work stoppages.

In addition to national labor agreements, the best contractors also understand that each individual plant and utility has unique challenges and needs. With this in mind, it is often advantageous to develop project and company specific agreements that promote project excellence.

Through clear, standard language, these uniform terms and conditions produce efficiencies that result in a direct benefit to nuclear plants in the form of lower costs and a more harmonious and productive job site. Many plants prefer the GPPMA or NMA and make one of these agreements a requirement in their bid package. The national agreements also have been beneficial to the Building Trades helping them maintain a long-term presence in the construction and maintenance markets.

Collaboration

For contractors with the best labor relationships, collaboration starts long before they ever begin working with unions and plant owners on a specific project. Serving on labor-management and industry association boards and committees to promote industry best practices that impact safety and human performance, and deliver quality and productivity is the first step to making building trades feel like they are working with contractors and owners to set larger policy. Initiatives that focus on training the next generation of labor are especially important as the impending age gap in the workforce becomes a more prominent issue. With baby boomers retiring in greater numbers, all parties are particularly interested in the recruiting and training of new entrants to the workforce.

A good example are Building Trades initiatives such as the Nuclear Mechanic Apprenticeship Process (NMAP), a method developed through tripartite cooperation among plant owners, contractors, and the Building Trades to ensure that the mechanical craft workforce has the skills and training necessary to meet the performance and quality standards for nuclear power plant projects. With representatives from all three groups engaged in these types of programs, they begin to develop mutual respect, ultimately leading to better outcomes when they are engaged in an official capacity.

Conclusion

Without question, implementing the three “C’s” can be challenging considering that the projects in the nuclear industry bring a multitude of complexities and demands. It takes time to develop trusting relationships among all the parties. However, once achieved, the benefits accrue for owners, contractors, and craft employees.

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