Special Reports
Wackenhut nuclear security reported asleep at the switch
By Jo-Ann Mort
Online Journal Guest Writer

Sep 26, 2007, 00:44

Plant and federal officials are investigating reports that one or more Peach Bottom nuclear power plant security officers were caught on videotape being "inattentive to duties," according to a report filed by the Associated Press on September 19. The nuclear facility is located in southern York County, Pa.

News reports cite the Exelon Corporation, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Wackenhut Corporation -- which provides security for Exelon nuclear power plants -- to be investigating allegations of security officers sleeping on the job. The NRC expects Exelon to request permission to operate two additional atomic energy facilities according to applications pending.

This is not the first time that security company Wackenhut has been found liable in this regard. Wackenhut had a $9.6 million per year contract to provide security services at the Department of Homeland Security's Washington, D.C., headquarters, but after revelations of extensive site security breaches, DHS declined to exercise the three-year extension option on Wackenhut's contract. Instead, it rewrote the contract and solicited bids. In April 2006, Wackenhut lost the re-bidding to a competitor, along with an expected $29 million over five years.

This past March, Danielle Brian, executive director of POGO (Project on Government Oversight), wrote a letter to Chairman Dale E. Klein of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission urging the NRC to make rules more stringent regarding overwork and fatigue by security officers. A POGO study found extreme fatigue and understaffing to be a serious problem at these facilities. According to the POGO report: �many utilities have relied heavily on requiring the existing guards to put in extraordinary overtime -- 12-hour shifts, six days a week. A number of guards have raised serious questions about their ability to remain alert under these conditions, as these hours are both mentally and physically exhausting.�

The report continued: �One of these guards said he was concerned that he was too fatigued and would be unfit for duty for the mandated overtime.� He filed a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) who ruled in his favor. The employer, the Wackenhut Corporation, settled with him. During its investigation, the DOL learned, �The NRC considers the 72-hour rule to be reasonable and fears that if an SO [Security Officer] is permitted to refuse to work based on fatigue it would create turmoil in the industry.�

Valarie Long, director of SEIU�s Property Services Division said of this most recent incident, �It�s no surprise that Wackenhut was caught off guard yet again. It�s time that they treat their workforce with dignity and respect -- and do the job that this company has been hired to do, which is protect the American people. Wackenhut is playing with the safety of its workforce and of the broader public.�

With 1.9 million members, SEIU is the largest and fastest-growing union in North America and the largest property services union, representing more than 250,000 security officers, janitors, and other maintenance and custodial workers.

This past July, Wackenhut was the subject of a congressional hearing conducted by Edolphus Towns (D-New York), chair of the Subcommittee on Government Management, Organization, and Procurement.

Wackenhut is owned by the London-based security conglomerate G4S. G4S, the largest company trading on the London stock exchange, is under fire from international human rights groups and trade unions for the company's practices in southern Africa and elsewhere.

More about Wackenhut Services, Inc. and the campaign to improve conditions for security workers can be found on the website eyeonwackenhut.org.

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