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Unions flip to support Kemper in exchange for jobs

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm •  Published: December 11, 2012

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Power Co.'s contractors have agreed to hire about 1,000 labor union members to build its Kemper County power plant, and a group of unions says it now supports the project.

"Our previous opposition to this plant was based on those issues," Robert Shaffer, president of Mississippi's chapter of the AFL-CIO union coalition, said at a news conference. "And we believe we've satisfied our concerns here today with a recently signed agreement with the Southern Co."

Christy Ihrig, a spokeswoman for Mississippi Power, confirmed that its contractors had made the agreement around Oct. 1. It gives unionized workers a financial leg up in competing for jobs at the plant, she said. Ihrig disputed any claim that Atlanta-based Southern, which owns Mississippi Power, had tried to buy unions' political support for Kemper. She said she didn't know why the agreement was made well after construction began in Kemper County.

The unions had most recently opposed the plant because contractors for Mississippi Power were excluding union members from the $2.8 billion project, which employed 2,600 construction workers as of November.

Tuesday, union leaders attacked a former ally, the Sierra Club, which continues to oppose the coal-fired plant. The union leaders said the environmental group's opposition could cost worker jobs and ratepayer money.

"With all due respect to the Sierra Club, they are just wrong in their attempts to shut down this project," said David Newell, president of the Central Mississippi Building and Construction Trades Council. "Mississippi needs the energy. Mississippi needs the jobs. And unfortunately, the lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club could end up costing ratepayers as much as $500 million more."

Newell said he expected about 1,000 union members to go to work at the Kemper site, where the workforce is expected to peak next spring. He and Shaffer wouldn't disclose the specifics of the agreement with contractors, but Newell also said he expected unionized workers to handle future maintenance at Kemper. He said that a Gulf Coast union coalition has an agreement to handle a planned pollution upgrade at Plant Daniel in Escatawpa and to do maintenance at Mississippi Power plants in the southern part of the state.

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