Guards strike Pantex nuclear assembly plant

Published 18 April 2007

New physical fitness standards upset older workers; Energy Department tries to mold guards into a “combat effective protective force”

They also serve who only stand and wait,” wrote John Locke. Those standards, however, are no longer good enough for the security guards charged with protecting the BWXT Pantex nuclear weapons assembly plant in Carson County, Texas. Under new Energy Department standards — which are intended to shift the protective posture from defensive to “a combat effective protective force” — guards must now prove themselves in physical ability and sharpshooting by running a mile in 8.5 minutes and a 40-yard dash in 8 seconds. All of this is also to prepare them for a change in duties: from now on, the guards will also wear bullet proof vests and carry rifles. All of this has proven unacceptable to the guard union, which is currently striking the plant. Because other Energy Deprtment plants are subject to the same standards, the Pantex action may just be the tip of the iceberg.

More than 500 such guards are now off the job, but there is little short-term risk, as BWXT Pantex has managed to round up a company of scabs take their place. According to the union, the new rules are unfair to older workers, who may have trouble meeting the requirements. As a compromise, it has suggested that the plant create career opportunities that allow workers to move into less physically demanding jobs as they age — a policy that has long been in effect in government law enforcement organizations. (In order to keep their health coverage, some fomer Pantex security guards have decided to stay on as janitors. The guards earn an average of $72,000 annually.) The union and the plant are currently enjoying a fourteen day cooling off period before resuming negotiations. “Fourteen days is okay for general industry, but we’re not protecting the Wal-Mart parking lot here,” said Mike Stumbo of the National Council of Security Police. “We’re protecting nuclear weapons.”