AEWC Members Flag Recruitment and Training Challenges at Spring Meeting

The Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) held its biannual meeting March 5-6 in Arlington, Va., broaching the topics of recruitment and training at atomic worksites across the country, as well as federal funding opportunities that may help address these concerns.

AEWC members from nearly every site agreed that attracting and training new workers has become increasingly difficult.

Council representatives from Portsmouth, Paducah, Hanford and the Idaho National Laboratory said that training programs have become less rigorous in order to attract new workers, and expressed the potential for safety issues down the road.

Bill Collins, Local 12-369 President at the Hanford site in Richland, Wash., said his site hasn’t hired an apprentice in 25 years. They instead use a journeyman training model, which he says cuts costs but does not prepare workers as well as apprenticeships.

USW International Vice President Roxanne Brown, AEWC President Jim Key and AEWC members brought the issue to William “Ike” White, Senior Advisor for Environmental Management at the DOE, who spent an hour at the meeting on day two.

“Rigor in training and planning has deteriorated over the years, and with chip plants and other manufacturing, there will be competing personnel for the workforce on these sites,” said Herman Potter, Local 689 President at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

White said attracting the talent needed for the nuclear workforce is a challenge not only in the U.S., but around the globe.

“When I think about the cleanup program going into the future, I think that one of our more significant risks is ensuring we get the right workforce we need, not just today and tomorrow, but for the foreseeable future,” said White.

“This is about increasing the pipeline for folks who can do the jobs in 15 years, and how we can talk to companies about being more long-term and strategic in their planning.”

White credited the USW’s Tony Mazzochi Center for its successful training programs of junior radiological technicians in Portsmouth and Paducah, and thanked the council for its continued collaboration.

Leveraging funding opportunities

Brown serves as the only labor representative on the Secretary of Energy’s advisory board, and reminded the council she can use her position strategically to make asks.

“This is the first time in history we’ve had this position on the advisory board, a direct line of communication to the Secretary of Energy,” said Brown.

“We need to prioritize our issues and think about how we can use this platform to the council’s advantage.”

Recruiting new workers and training them to the highest degree of safety standards is near the top of that priority list.

“The DOE is flush with cash for these kinds of projects, and we need to use every lever we have to connect these projects to USW jobs and what that means for our future,” said Brown.

USW Director of Regulatory and State Policy Anna Fendley updated the council about the influx of DOE funding allocated for clean energy manufacturing technologies.

Part of the funding, Fendley said, is for building and retrofitting manufacturing facilities, particularly in areas where coal-fired power plants have closed like Portsmouth and Paducah.

“As we’re talking about reindustrialization within the coming year and potential growth at our sites, it’s important to think about using our leverage to get organizing wins and bring people into your units,” said Fendley.

The council set a working group meeting for early April to further the funding conversation, and an additional working group will meet to discuss harmonizing health care benefits in mid-April.

The AEWC will meet again in the Washington, D.C., area in September 2023.

AEWC members from USW Local 550 visit Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) during a lobby day on the Hill after the atomic council meeting.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-6961

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222