Labor pact to boost pay, benefits to Oak Ridge cleanup workers

April 1, 2024, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
From left, Erik Olds, OREM deputy manager; Jay Mullis, OREM manager; Brandon Bishop, NABTU secretary-treasurer; Sean McGarvey, NABTU president; Ken Rueter, UCOR president and CEO; William “Ike” White, DOE-EM senior advisor; and Jeff Avery, DOE-EM principal deputy assistant secretary.

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management announced the signing of a project labor agreement (PLA) between Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) contractor UCOR and North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU). The agreement, which allows for flexibility in wage increases and other incentives, is expected to help recruit and retain skilled construction trade workers at the DOE site in Tennessee.

According to DOE-EM, the PLA is the office’s first agreement with a national labor organization and establishes a template that other cleanup sites across the DOE complex can use.

The details: Signed on March 20, the agreement offers a 20 percent wage increase over a three-year period plus paid holidays, a contract ratification bonus, and a retention incentive program. It also ensures that jurisdictional issues will be resolved by national union leadership.

The PLA replaces a construction labor agreement previously in place with local building trades. According to DOE-EM, that agreement limited UCOR’s ability to adjust wages to remain competitive in today’s labor market, resulting in an attrition rate of more than 20 percent for craft workers at the company in recent years.

The workforce: Approximately 550 trade workers support the cleanup at the Oak Ridge Reservation, which includes the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Workers previously decommissioned Oak Ridge’s uranium enrichment complex, allowing the remediated site to be converted to the East Tennessee Technology Park. More recently, crews demolished the Biology Complex, Old Criticality Experiment Laboratory, Bulk Shielding Reactor, and Low Intensity Reactor as work continues to transform Y-12 and ORNL to enable new growth in the years ahead.

“We rely on the talent and commitment to excellence that is constantly exhibited by these workers,” said Ken Rueter, UCOR president and chief executive officer. “They enable us to safely and efficiently meet our commitments to DOE as we continue Oak Ridge Reservation cleanup activities.”

They said it: “The signing of this decade-long PLA ensures that in the years to come, our 550 members whom it impacts will not only see the benefit of middle-class-sustaining union wages but will be a critical part of our national environmental management cleanup efforts,” said Sean McGarvey, NABTU president.

OREM manager Jay Mullis added, “The primary driver behind our sustained success has been the men and women in the field performing the work. This agreement will help UCOR retain this outstanding workforce, and it provides the means to ensure workers receive the pay and benefits that match their performance.”

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