KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Two security officers at the federal government's Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in East Tennessee were fired in mid-October after a July 28 incident in which a machine gun accidentally discharged inside an armored vehicle, a union leader has confirmed.
Shannon Gray, president of the International Guards Union of America, Local 3, said the union filed a grievance immediately afterward and is aggressively pursuing arbitration in the case.
"They have terminated both individuals," Gray said. "I can just plainly tell you that based on the facts that we've had laid before us — and we took part in several of the interviews — we don't feel that the termination was warranted."
B&W Y-12, the government's managing contractor at the nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tenn., released a summary of its findings following a four-month investigation. The contractor, however, has refused to identify the individuals or discuss whether they were fired or otherwise punished.
B&W's report indicated that there were a number of issues pertaining to the firearm's positioning inside the vehicle — noting that it was in an "unsafe" configuration. However, the report concluded that the actual discharge likely occurred when one of the security police officers inadvertently pulled the trigger while handling the weapon.
Gray said he could not discuss the case in any detail pending the upcoming arbitration, but he said the reason the two guards were terminated didn't have a lot to do with the discharge of the firearm itself. It had more to do with their alleged behavior during the investigation, he said.
The union leader said the company is alleging some violation of company policy, and he said the guards union strongly disagrees with that assessment.
The two security police officers received minor injuries in the incident, which occurred shortly after midnight in the plant's high-security Protected Area. The investigation lasted four months.
Gray confirmed that the two guards were placed on leave with pay until the contractor decided to terminate them in mid-October. Since then, they have not received paychecks, he said.
The machine gun apparently was not properly housed in its locked rack inside the vehicle, where it normally resides when the vehicle is in use. That was part of the configuration considered unsafe, and the gun reportedly discharged when the security officer moved it out of the rack and placed it on its side next to the rack.
According to the contractor's summary, "Tests conducted with an identical weapon resulted in the weapon not firing without the trigger being pulled, leading investigators to conclude that the SPO (security police officer) more than likely inadvertently pulled the trigger while handling the weapon outside its storage rack."
(Frank Munger is a reporter for the Knoxville News Sentinel.)