Woman Trade Unionist Succeeds in Male-Dominated Profession

Charlene Clarke, the new local 13173 president at Cameco’s Port Hope Conversion Facility in Ontario Canada, was one of the first women to take the Women of Steel instructor training class over 18 years ago.

“I realized I didn’t have to be one of the guys to get things done; I could be me,” she said.

Most of the employees are men at the uranium conversion facility, but that has not bothered Clarke.

“I’ve been lucky starting out in a man’s world and having some great mentors along the way,” she said.

Clarke has worked at Cameco for almost 21 years and is an analytical lab technician. She has been active in the local most of that time, and members elected her vice president twice.

A previous Local 13173 president recruited her to get involved in the local because there was a need for someone to speak up for health and safety.

Now, she conducts workplace safety and insurance board training for Prevention Link, an independent agency of the Ministry of Labour in Ontario that handles workers’ compensation. She also helps workers who get injured on the job, and is a champion of the site’s health and safety committee. Every Local 13173 executive board member is on a health and safety committee.

In addition, she is an instructor for the USW, training stewards and teaching Women of Steel classes and courses on health and safety. She also teaches safety at the Ontario-funded Workers Health and Safety Center.

About 200 members are in Clarke’s local. They work in maintenance, production, janitorial, clean-up, materials handling, technical services (analytical lab technicians and radiation environmental technicians), stores and operations.

In the next few years many will retire. “Part of our goal is to maintain those jobs. A lot of knowledge goes out the door with those guys. With each retirement, the company determines if it will replace the person,” Clarke said.

Fortunately, she said the senior guys are mentoring the next generation.

Port Hope Site Converts Uranium to Generate Canada’s Power

Cameco’s Port Hope Conversion Facility in Ontario Canada, is the only uranium conversion facility in Canada, and is located in southern Ontario, one hour east of Toronto. It converts UO3 uranium from Cameco’s Blind River refinery into UO2 for CANDU heavy water reactors in Canada. The UOis sent up the street to Cameco Fuel Manufacturing, which builds the fuel bundles that are shipped to CANDU reactors.

The site also converts UO3 into UF6. Robust transport cylinders are filled with the UF6, which solidifies within the cylinders, and is shipped to uranium enrichment plants that produce fuel for light water reactors. 

The processing of nuclear material began at the site in the 1930s as Eldorado Mining and Refining Ltd, a crown corporation. 

Now, the Port Hope Area Initiative is cleaning up the historic nuclear waste. Workers are remediating industrial and low-level radioactive waste and depositing it into long-term waste management facilities.

“Everyone is working together to ensure people are safe,” Clarke said. “It’s a balance of ensuring our jobs remain our jobs and that we protect everyone on our site.”

She said there is a union safety orientation for the contract positions and employees. Plus, the union gives safety and union awareness presentations to students who work at the site during the summer to encourage them to ask questions.

Clarke said the union and the company work well together on safety. “I think we have a good working relationship. It helps to understand each other’s interests, and if you’re working together, you can get farther along to solving problems.”

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