Piketon Local Union Trains Workers in Response to Radiation Control Technician Shortage

A shortage of Radiological Control Technicians (RCTs) for cleanup work at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) in Piketon, Ohio, prompted Local 1-689 to proactively offer an RCT course this fall for current workers to gain more skills and community members seeking high-paid employment at the site.

“I don’t think people realize how important this course is,” said Local 1-689 President Herman Potter. “This class applies to jobs across the Department of Energy (DOE) complex. Outside of these facilities, RCTs have not been cultivated, so we don’t have many out there.”

The end result, he said, is that RCTs bounce back and forth across the DOE sites to the highest bidder, so there is no longevity.

“We thought that if we train our own RCTs and help people in the community, these folks would stay at home and remain at the plant,” Herman said.

He said the Piketon plant is short 40-60 RCTs, and needs senior RCTs, despite there not being many senior RCT classes available.

“Even after people finish the RCT class, it takes two–to–three years to become a senior RCT before being qualified, regulatory-wise, for shipping radioactive and hazardous waste,” Herman said. “The atomic industry is historically behind in training RCTs. Our union is jumping in and filling that void. At our site, all the RCTs are USW-represented.”

Cross-Training Opportunity

RCT training also is open to existing workers at Piketon who want additional skills to maintain employment as the work scope and skill mix requirements change.

“As the Decontamination & Decommissioning (D&D) project progresses, there will be a shift in the work scope. We wanted to be proactive with our employees and offer training that will allow them to move right into the new positions. We also wanted to offer training to potential new hires from our community,” Herman said.

RCTs check for radioactive contamination at the plant, such as worker locker areas and places where people eat, and they monitor work processes for contamination. They check individuals for contamination, conduct an individual monitoring program, do bioassays, and handle work that involves health physics. If there is contamination, they tell others where to establish boundaries, so no one walks through the area and it gets cleaned up. They also classify an area to establish that a respirator is needed.

Starting out, junior RCTs earn $22-$24 an hour. After gaining experience in two to three years, RCTs’ union wage jumps to about $28-$32 an hour. In five years, the union wage jumps to $38-$42 per hour.

Classes are Free

The RCT class began Sept. 6, 2017 and continues through January 2018. The training is free and includes trainers, books and class materials.

The USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) obtained a grant under award UH4ES009761 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that is under the National Institute of Health to provide hazardous materials (HAZMAT) training at DOE nuclear weapon complexes. This grant includes trainers, books and class materials for courses like the RCT training.

Local 1-689 has a partnership with USWTMC to provide safety and technical training to prepare qualifying individuals, who are at least 18 years old prior to the start of a course, for employment opportunities at the Piketon site.

Marybeth Potter, Local 1-689 member and training coordinator with the USWTMC, said that six full-time RCTs from the Piketon site and one full-time USW safety representative will teach the course.

“We felt they were the most qualified to be the trainers teaching this technical curriculum,” she said.
Reciprocity across DOE Complex
Marybeth said the worker-trainers traveled to the DOE Training Institute (DTI) at the Hanford, Wash., nuclear reservation to become DTI-certified trainers. People taught by DTI-certified trainers using DTI’s curriculum receive training that has reciprocity across the DOE complex and enables them to get a job at any of the DOE sites.

She said that RCT students learn 13 modules of DOE core curriculum material, such as internal/external exposure control, math, sources of radiation, biological effects of radiation, and the radiation protection standard. They also learn 19 modules of site specific material, such as general dosimetry, air sampling and documentation.

Marybeth said a number of contractors at the site have committed to give hiring preference to those who complete the RCT course and pass their final exam.

Community Support

To make the RCT class a reality, Local 1-689 obtained the help and support of the community. The Village of Piketon and Local 1-689 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in February 2017 for the town to provide classroom space at no charge for the RCT and future training. The two groups formed a partnership called the Energy Industry Training Consortium (EITC).

“The Village of Piketon supports our local work force, and we are happy to provide the space for this training free of charge to the USW,” said Piketon Mayor Billy Spencer. “The training these guys put on is top notch.”

EITC also is in partnership with DTI, USWTMC and the Pike County Career Technical Center. The technical center helps the local union qualify students by conducting WorkKeys testing, which measure’s a person’s math and comprehension abilities to determine if he or she has the skills to successfully complete the RCT class and energy industry training.

Marybeth said the center screened 80 people, and about 60 successfully passed the testing criteria and received application packets. Then a screening committee reviewed each numbered application packet—disguised not to reveal the person’s name—to examine items like the applicants’ resumes, educational experience, military service and references.

The committee picked the top 20 applicants, plus 10 alternates, Marybeth said. All 20 must go through a background check and drug screening to be eligible for a future security clearance for DOE sites. If someone does not pass, he or she will be replaced by an alternate. Each RCT class has 20 students.

Other Free Training

Everyone who passed the WorkKeys testing, whether or not they were chosen for the current RCT class, will be offered a free OSHA 30-hour and 40-hour hazardous operation emergency response class.

“This will provide them with other certificates that can increase their chance of getting into the next RCT class,” Marybeth said. “Having those credentials reduces costs for contractors so they do not have to pull people out for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training after they are hired.”

Local 1-689 and its partners plan to add other courses in the future, including the OSHA 30-hour and 40-hour classes, HAZWOPER, Radiological Worker 1 & 11, and industrial hygiene.

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