For 15 years, Linda Hayes had the mettle to toil as an ironworker at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

She was there in 1980, when construction on the plant was just beginning. By 1985, she was doing major overhaul work on the three nuclear generators when they were shut down for maintenance. While the job wasn't full-time, it paid well--about $20 an hour, including benefits.

In early 1993, Hayes became a full-time foreman, overseeing maintenance operations. The 45-year-old grandmother worked in the heart of the power plant--the steam generators--where she pulled and replaced giant shock absorbers, called snubbers, from beneath reactor coolant pumps.

Hayes did tough work in a dangerous environment. And she loved it.
"I never had anything but praise," she says. "I never missed any time. One of the APS [Arizona Public Service Company] managers told me he wished he had people who took as much pride in their work" as she does.

But longevity, skill and pride weren't enough to protect Hayes' job at the nation's largest nuclear plant. She had one big strike against her. She was a member of a trade union, Ironworkers Local 75.

She was one of several hundred skilled union laborers dismissed last summer when APS dropped Bechtel Corporation as its labor contractor and hired Fluor Daniel Corporation of Irvine, California.

San Francisco-based Bechtel, which built the power plant, hires union workers. Fluor Daniel has an "open shop" policy, preferring to hire nonunion workers.

Fluor Daniel has a national reputation of playing hardball with unions and has been cited twice in the past five years by the National Labor Relations Board for unfairly excluding union members.

Arizona union officials say Fluor Daniel is again engaging in the labor practices that the NLRB has found to be illegal.

"It's become a pattern with Fluor Daniel," says Gary Evenson, a union organizer who filed a complaint with the NLRB over Fluor Daniel's hiring practices at Palo Verde.

"They have shown they are willing to go further than the law allows to maintain an open shop," Evenson says.

The NLRB regional office agrees. The Region 28 office filed a complaint against Fluor Daniel on November 30, claiming that the company had discriminated against union members seeking jobs at Palo Verde. The NLRB has scheduled a May 16 hearing in Phoenix.

In its response to the NLRB complaint, Fluor Daniel brushes aside the allegations. A company official predicts the case will be thrown out. "We categorically deny the allegations listed in the complaint and we expect to be fully vindicated in the hearing process in May," says Fluor Daniel spokeswoman Deborah Land.

Federal labor law prohibits employers from rejecting qualified workers because they are union members. Federal laws give employees the right to organize and join a union and to bargain collectively through union representatives of their choice. At the same time, workers are guaranteed the right to refrain from any union activity.

Evenson says Fluor Daniel has refused even to consider hiring at least 53 skilled unionists at Palo Verde even though they are willing to work at Fluor Daniel's wages. The prevailing wage for skilled labor is around $10 an hour, half of what it was under union contracts with Bechtel, Evenson says.

Most of the union members submitting applications have worked at Palo Verde and have already been granted the required federal security clearances. Many also have received extensive training on the plant's operations and have undergone medical examinations.

"There is no one more qualified on the face of the Earth to work at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station than these [union] people," Evenson says.

Union members say many of the nonunion workers hired by Fluor Daniel have traveled to Arizona from Southeastern states. Evenson says Fluor Daniel's low pay is contributing to high turnover among the out-of-state workers, some of whom grow weary of working at the isolated plant, which is located 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix in an area with limited housing.

Despite the labor churn, union members say Fluor Daniel refuses even to interview union members for skilled positions, expect in rare cases where a labor shortage becomes acute. Evenson says a few union welders have been hired in the past six months.

The labor dispute will likely drag on for years. The previous cases filed against Fluor Daniel took about three years to resolve. In those cases, the company promised not to violate federal labor law and was ordered to provide back pay to the union employees it refused to hire.

While the dispute simmers, Linda Hayes has taken a job at a soft-drink plant, running a bottling machine that fills 800 beverage bottles a minute. The job doesn't pay as well as her old one, and she misses the challenge of working at Palo Verde, Hayes says.

Her husband, Ken Hayes, is a union millwright who also lost his job at Palo Verde last summer. Like many other skilled unionists who once worked at Palo Verde, he hasn't found work locally. Some laid-off workers have been forced to travel out of state, primarily to California's San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, where union workers are welcomed.

Ken Hayes says APS fostered antiunion sentiment at Palo Verde by passing out derogatory materials during union campaigns to organize additional employees.

"Some of the stuff they were passing out to their employees listing reasons why not to join the union were disgusting," says Ken Hayes.

In one case, he says, the company distributed a shirt with a drawing of two cowboy boots encased in concrete. The initials "J" and "H" were inscribed in each boot. Below the illustration was the statement: "Jimmy Hoffa says vote no!

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty