Atomic Council Meets Online

About 26 members of the USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) met online this month to present updates on the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center (USWTMC) grant program, clean-up funding, legislation, the status of Covid-19 protocols and any contractor or Department of Energy (DOE) issues at each site.

USW International Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown, who heads the union’s atomic sector, said that it is one of the only USW industrial sectors that has not had significant job loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, DOE’s sites in Paducah, Ky., Portsmouth, Ohio, and Idaho Falls, Idaho, are all hiring workers, as well as the Nuclear Fuel Services plant in Erwin, Tenn.

“This sector is supported by a bipartisan group of congressional representatives and senators who know that the work you do at these sites is important ,” Brown said, “so our funding and work has  continued.”

Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government at the fiscal year 2020 level through December. Brown said it is likely that Congress will pass another resolution to punt 2021 funding to early next year.

Funding for USWTMC’s five-year grant program that begins Jan. 1, 2021 and runs through Jan. 1, 2026, however, was decreased.

USWTMC Director Ashlee Fitch said the center had trouble meeting the training goals set in previous years, so the decrease did not come as a surprise. She said that funding will continue for the regular training classes like health and safety representative and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER).

The decrease in funding will impact special projects like the radiological control technician training LU 1-689 did in Portsmouth and community outreach training, Fitch said.

“We’ll watch our finances next year and see if the training budget has more funds to do that type of extra training,” she said.

John Paul Smith with the USW’s Legislative department discussed H.R. 7852/S.4363, the Toxic Exposure Safety Act of 2020. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is sponsoring the bill, which would establish a research program on chemical exposures at nuclear sites. The legislation would concern Part E of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA).

Smith said the legislative office presented Murray with requests for additional funding for the Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health, which oversees implementation of EEOICPA, and worker involvement in the research studies on chemical exposure.

The DOE sites are in Phase 2 of bringing people back to work. USW-represented workers have returned to the sites, except for those who are sick, Covid-positive, at high risk or quarantined because of contact with someone who tested positive or showed symptoms.

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