Group photo of EM, NABTU, OREM and UCOR leadership

From left, Erik Olds, Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) deputy manager; Jay Mullis, OREM manager; Brandon Bishop, North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) secretary-treasurer; Sean McGarvey, NABTU president; Ken Rueter, UCOR president and CEO; William “Ike” White, EM senior advisor; and Jeff Avery, EM principal deputy assistant secretary.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Efforts to retain and recruit skilled construction trade workers took a major step forward with 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).

It marks EM’s first-ever agreement with a national labor organization, allows for flexibility in wage increases and other incentives, and establishes a template other EM cleanup sites across the DOE complex can use.

Top leadership from EM headquarters, NABTU, OREM and UCOR were on hand to celebrate the signing March 20.

“We’re very pleased about the development and signing of this project labor agreement between UCOR and NABTU,” OREM Manager Jay Mullis said. “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.”

Two men in the foreground with excavators dumping soil into dump trucks

Approximately 550 trade workers support EM cleanup contractor UCOR in Oak Ridge. Among their many tasks are operating equipment on some of the largest cleanup projects at the East Tennessee Technology Park and conducting demolitions that are transforming the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Approximately 550 trade workers support EM’s Oak Ridge cleanup. They’ve achieved notable successes, including a world first by removing Oak Ridge’s uranium enrichment complex.

More recently, they demolished the Biology Complex, Old Criticality Experiment Laboratory, Bulk Shielding Reactor and Low Intensity Reactor, and they’ll conduct more projects to transform the Y-12 National Security Complex and Oak Ridge National Laboratory and enable new growth in the years ahead.

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

The agreement replaces a construction labor agreement previously in place. That agreement was with local building trades and limited UCOR’s ability to adjust wages to remain competitive in today’s labor market. That disparity resulted in an attrition rate of more than 20% for craft workers at the company in recent years.

The pact offers a 20% wage increase over a three-year period plus paid holidays, a contract ratification bonus and a retention incentive program. It also ensures jurisdictional issues are resolved by national union leadership.

“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. “Furthermore, this historic agreement is the first PLA compliant with President Biden’s executive order on PLAs. Today's signing celebrates workers, environmental management and economic opportunity for Oak Ridge and the hardworking UCOR community.”

Read more about President Joe Biden’s executive order on use of PLAs for federal construction projects here.

-Contributor: Wayne McKinney