The NRC’s process for handling allegations of safety problems at nuclear power plants was described in NEAT #8. Workers at nuclear power plants, as well as workers at companies providing goods and services to nuclear power plants, are protected by federal regulation from being discriminated against for having raised safety concerns.
When a worker believes an employer has discriminated against him or her due in whole or in part to having raised nuclear safety concerns, the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA) provides up to 180 days to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
DOL initially screens complaints it receives to ascertain (a) if the alleged discrimination occurred within the time-frame (usually past 180 day) specified in the ERA, (b) if the worker was likely engaged in an activity protected under the ERA, and (c) if a prima facie case has been made that the worker raised safety concern(s) and experienced discrimination for having done so.
DOL investigates complaints passing its initial screening. DOL’s efforts can find in favor of the worker or the employer. As typical with legal proceedings, DOL’s decisions can be – and often are – appealed.
While some complaints are resolved by parties reaching settlement terms during the proceedings, the DOL’s final decisions can range from ordering the employer to reinstate a terminated worker and/or providing financial restitution for harm caused by the discrimination to finding that the worker did not file a timely complaint, was not engaged in an activity protected under the law, or failed to show that the discrimination was due to having raised safety concerns and not for other non-protected reasons (e.g., poor job performance).
The DOL has a useful webpage to see what companies are experiencing discrimination-related issues. The right-hand portion of the DOL’s webpage allows cases meeting specified criteria to be retrieved and reviewed.
For example, typing “Indian Point” into the “for:” box under Option 1 and clicking the SEARCH icon returns 21 cases. (NOTE: Typing Indian Point into the box without quotes returns 225 cases where “Indian” and “point” are mentioned anywhere within the record and not necessarily next to each other.) Twenty of these cases are Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions and one involves a decision by the Administrative Review Board (ARB) regarding an appeal. (NOTE: Only two of the twenty ALJ cases are shown initially. To view all the cases, click on the “See all 20” link.)
Or, one can search the cases by year the complaint was filed, the name of the worker filing the complaint, or the employer named in the complaint.
To search for complaints filed in a specified year, enter the year in YYYY format (e.g, 2012) in the first box under the OALJ Case Number heading in Option 2 and click “Go.” Searching just for cases originated in 2012 returned over 8,600 records, so searching by year alone might be an easy way to waste lots of time.
To search for complaints filed against specified companies (employers), enter the name into the Employer/Respondent” box in Option 2 and click “Go.” Entering Tennessee Valley Authority into the box (no quotes are needed for these entries) returned 142 records. The “hit” list for select employers:
142 Tennessee Valley Authority
31 General Electric
30 Florida Power & Light
19 Commonwealth Edison
18 Georgia Power
16 Northeast Utilities
15 Carolina Power & Light
5 New York Power Authority
4 Boston Edison
4 First Energy
4 Philadelphia Electric
2 Dominion Nuclear
1 General Public Utilities
No one holds a candle to the Tennessee Valley Aurthority.
The good news is that nuclear workers have the legal right to freely raise safety concerns and that DOL provides workers a safety net by investigating and correcting times when employers have violated those rights.
The bad news is that the safety net gets quite a bit of use. It would be better if this safety net was collecting dust rather than workers pushed by employers off the nuclear tightrope.
The UCS Nuclear Energy Activist Toolkit (NEAT) is a series of post intended to help citizens understand nuclear technology and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s processes for overseeing nuclear plant safety.