On a brisk morning near the edge of Avila Beach, a line of nuclear engineers marched at the gated entrance to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, shouting for PG&E management to make safety their top priority.
The picketers were not striking and, in fact, several had work later that day. Although the word “strike” seemed to be in the backs of their throats, the engineers paced slowly, occasionally breaking their line to let cars pass.
There was little traffic aside from the occasional PG&E employee, but it didn’t stop the engineers, who just unionized in April, from shouting slogans and shaking their signs.
“What do we want?” one of the picketers called. “Safety,” the others yelled back.
“When do we want it?”
Union members said PG&E was putting profit ahead of safety by often getting work done through non-union contractors. Much of the work is outsourced to contractors who are unfamiliar with the plant, they added. And senior plant workers are leaving Diablo Canyon in growing numbers, but are not replaced by full-time, experienced engineers.
What’s left is a relatively young, inexperienced workforce, and the contracted work sometimes fails to meet inspection standards. They said they are worried that the plant, though safe now, could become more hazardous as veteran workers leave.
“People coming now as management, they don’t have the plant at their best interest; we do,” said Cory Pfau, a senior consulting engineer.
PG&E spokesperson Emily Christensen said the plant stands behind its safety record, adding that the company is aware of “looming retirements and we’re taking the necessary action to continue to operate the plant safely and reliably.”
But workers said it was their ranks, more than management, who had the plant’s security at heart.
Senior Electrical Engineer Rob Martin said workers are the first line of defense when it comes to Diablo Canyon. “We take that job seriously and we’re going to keep doing it until every one of us is gone.”
In the background the picketers chanted: “They say cut backs; we say fight back.”