The Savannah River Site, in South Carolina, is a large but little-known power plant that stores excess plutonium, produces radioactive fuel for hydrogen bombs, and recycles tritium in nuclear warheads to keep them from degrading. The site is controlled by the US Department of Energy, and they contract the private security company Centerra.
Union group ‘United Professional Pro-Force of Savannah River, Local 125’ is composed of nearly 100 para military security employees from the plant. The group is currently fighting with Centerra over increases in health care costs, and a controversial new contract clause limiting the union’s power. The workers have now been on strike for over two weeks.
“Most people don’t know about this place, but they would be affected if anything were to occur. It’s the nastiest stuff man’s ever made, and we sit on top of it every single day,” Mathias Miller, president of the UPPSR 125, told VICE.
Last month, when Centerra tried to push the new contract on employees, it was voted down by 92% of the union. Subsequently, 87% voted to strike rather than go back to the table. The union disputes a dismissal of their contract language, which had held up for over 30 years.
While the workers strike, the site is being secured by “fully trained” temporary staff, according to Centerra. But UPPSR members, who have extensive weapons training and maintain a high-security clearance, are not convinced. “Unless you work there, there’s no way you could possibly know [your way around]… It comes down to, again, the corporation versus real security,” said Miller.
South Carolina’s history is fraught with worker tension. ”South Carolina’s about as unfriendly to organized labor as you can get,” said Kerry Taylor, labor historian and professor at the Citadel. “This has been official policy to keep wages low and keep unions out. It’s built into the structure of the economy.”
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