Georgia Power cuts nearly 2,000 Vogtle workers as coronavirus spreads

Georgia Power is cutting nearly 2,000 workers from its multibillion-dollar nuclear expansion of Plant Vogtle as the new coronavirus continues to spread, absenteeism grows and more than 400 workers have self isolated.

The 20% reduction in the project’s 9,000-person workforce was announced in a Thursday morning regulatory filing by Georgia Power’s parent, Atlanta-based Southern Company. The cuts are expected to last into the summer, according to Southern’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Southern said the project is expected to stay within its latest budget and completion schedule, “assuming absenteeism rates normalize and the intended productivity efficiencies are realized in the coming months.”

Georgia Power issued a separate statement saying project managers have asked for about a 20% reduction in the site’s craft workforce “through a self-selection process.”

So far, 42 workers on the project south of Augusta have tested positive for COVID-19, Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft wrote in a text to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday morning. Another 57 workers are awaiting test results and an additional 154 have tested negative, he wrote.

Vogtle’s two new units are currently slated to go into service in November 2021 and November 2022, respectively.

The expansion, which the company said is the largest construction project in the state, is already years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget as a result of numerous problems that began long before the pandemic. Staff and consultants with the Georgia Public Service Commission warned last year of continued challenges for the state's largest utility to complete the project by its latest approved schedule.

Overruns and delay costs are likely to be passed along not only to Georgia Power customers but also to consumers, businesses, schools and others served by many utilities throughout the state that are contractually tied to the project.

Southern said Thursday that the Vogtle workforce reduction is aimed at addressing “ongoing challenges with labor productivity that have been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19.”

“It is expected to provide operational efficiencies by increasing productivity of the remaining workforce and reducing workforce fatigue and absenteeism,” the company wrote. “It is also expected to allow for increased social distancing by the workforce and facilitate compliance with the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Many workers were already choosing to stay home as concerns grew.

The company has said it previously took numerous steps to reduce the risk of coronavirus on the site.

Asked for comment Thursday, the North America’s Building Trades Union repeated a March press release in which NABTU president Sean McGarvey commended “the extraordinary measures taken by Southern Company at Plant Vogtle to go above and beyond the call of duty to keep our members safe and healthy.”

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