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December 2022

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Pennsylvania Locals Get Apprenticeship Funding

Two IBEW locals in Pennsylvania were awarded state funding exceeding $1 million for their apprenticeship programs.

"This funding is a testament to the strength and necessity of our apprenticeships in the state," said Third District Vice President Dennis Affinati. "With these grants, our locals can expand their reach and provide our second-to-none training to even more people, which not only meets the growing demand for trained electricians, but provides a solid, middle-class career opportunity to more Pennsylvanians."

Wilkes-Barre Local 163 received two grants, one for $446,247 and one for $297,000, while Reading Local 743 got $287,895.

Local 163's larger grant will serve 96 people, 40 of whom will be from underrepresented populations. It's part of Gov. Tom Wolf's PAsmart initiative, which aims to increase the number of registered apprenticeship programs in nontraditional industries, as well as to reach underserved populations such as women and minorities.

"Throughout history, apprenticeships have been a vital part of career education in certain fields," Wolf said in a press release announcing the funding awards for Local 163 and 13 other recipients. "Through these important grants, we are offering more Pennsylvania workers opportunities to train for family-sustaining jobs while helping businesses develop a workforce that will strengthen our economy and the communities most in need," Wolf said.

Local 743's grant is through the state's Department of Community and Economic Development, or DCED, and will help provide training for more than 85 electrical industry apprentices across five counties.

"The electrical industry has created a significant demand for qualified electrical workers in our five-county area, and with the support of the DCED, our apprenticeship program will expand enrollment," said Local 743 Training Director Ed Bernitsky. "In an ever-changing industry, we can provide the most state-of-the-art training while our apprentices earn a fair wage and benefits."

The money came about in part because of anticipated employment opportunities from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. Since then, Biden has also passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which promises even more jobs for IBEW members.

"We want to be proactive and not reactive in terms of all the projected work," said Local 163 Training Director John Nadolny, who also led Wolf on a tour of the local's training center in Nanticoke in September.

Nadolny said the program to reach underserved communities will be new for Local 163 and that they may even hire a professional to help them with the effort.

"We want to explore a lot of different ways of reaching these populations," he said. "Younger generations, for example, don't respond to mail or even email like older generations do. You have to be on social media, where they are, in order to reach them."

Bernitsky said Local 743 will also use some of the funding for social media outreach. Other funds will be earmarked for items like expanded education on broadband, fiber optics, solar technologies and electric vehicle charging; an expansion of safety training; help with apprentice books; and instructor salaries.

Both locals hope to expand the number of apprentices they can accept, as well as their training capacity, to make it more state-of-the-art and hands-on, and said they are thankful to have a governor who has made growing apprenticeships a main focus.

"It shows that our current leaders in Harrisburg are committed to supporting registered apprenticeship programs in order to continue to expand the pipeline of qualified electrical workers by helping us train local residents in our area while they earn a fair wage and benefits," Bernitsky said. "It creates a better quality of life for our community."

According to the Department of Labor, 92% of apprentices retain employment after graduation and make an average annual salary of $72,000. The average starting salary for a graduate of a traditional four-year college, by comparison, is closer to $55,000 a year. And research by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute found a union benefit, with apprentices of union programs tending to make more money and have more benefits than their nonunion counterparts.

"It can be hard to find people. You have to get creative," Nadolny said. "A lot of people don't know about apprenticeships, that it's a great career and offers a living wage with excellent benefits and a retirement plan. We want to get the message out to people who don't know about us, and these grants will help with that. It's a perfect fit for what we need, and it is much appreciated."



Two Pennsylvania locals received funding from the state to expand their apprenticeship programs.

New PLA Spells Steady Work for
Hundreds of IBEW Members in Ga., S.C.

Hundreds of IBEW members are set to build and then staff a facility that makes the plutonium pits that go inside every nuclear weapon in the U.S., thanks to a new project labor agreement signed in October by Augusta, Ga., Local 1579 Business Manager Will Salters.

Once construction kicks into high gear, the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility is expected to employ anywhere from 400 to 600 IBEW members, Salters said, with the project expected to take up to 10 years to complete. After that, more than 1,800 people are expected to work at the facility, including a yet-to-be-determined number of highly skilled IBEW members to handle maintenance and other work at the facility.

"It keeps the community working," Salters told WJBF, a TV station in Augusta. "It's huge."

PLAs set projects' working terms to help ensure that they are completed safely, on time and under budget. Just as importantly, they provide for good pay and benefits for workers, which in turn supports those workers' communities. "This PLA makes the building trades exclusive to the project," said Salters, who also is president of the 19-member Augusta Building and Construction Trades Council.

"The pit project is going to be a slow start, eight to 10 people," Salters said about the project's ramp-up. Over the next year and a half, these IBEW members will be installing temporary power at the SRPPF near Aiken, S.C., inside Local 1579's jurisdiction. Workers from other trades are handling demolition and other infrastructure projects.

Every nuclear weapon in the U.S. contains a pit of processed plutonium the size of a bowling ball. The U.S. has a stockpile of pits that were produced from 1978 to 1989, but over time, pits break down naturally and need to be replaced.

Federal law requires the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration to facilitate production of at least 80 war-reserve plutonium pits per year by 2030. For that reason, the U.S. government considers the SRPPF project crucial for its long-term strategy for maintaining the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons. When it's operating at full capacity, the facility in Aiken is projected to produce at least 50 pits, with a sister facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico producing the remaining 30.

The SRPPF project is inside what's known as the Savannah River Site, a 310-square-mile plot of land near the border between South Carolina and Georgia.

From 1953 to 1988, five reactors at the SRS produced about 36 metric tons of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. The demand for such large amounts of nuclear material declined dramatically after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the site's production facilities were gradually shut down into the early 2000s.

This new project calls for converting what was originally designed to be the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility into the SRPPF, a move that will allow the Nuclear Security Administration to make full use of the secure and seismically safe three-story structure, which already contains a lot of what the SRPPF will need, such as office and manufacturing space, plus security and fire protection systems.

"Any time our local union members can find work in the Central Savannah River area, their families and communities benefit as well," Salters said. "The timing could scarcely be better with the Vogtle project winding down."

Salters referred to the massive project to build two new nuclear reactors near Waynesboro, Ga., at Plant Vogtle, the first new nuclear power plant units constructed in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Hundreds of IBEW members — mostly from Local 1579 but travelers from other locals as well — can boast that they were working on a project that was, at one time, the largest construction project in North America. Fuel loading is underway for one of the reactors, while the other one is still under construction. About 1,200 members continue to work on both sites. (Read more about it in the August 2018 Electrical Worker.)

Because SRPPF is a large-scale federal project, Salters said, Davis-Bacon rules providing for the payment of the area's prevailing wage automatically apply. The trades council also successfully negotiated for agreement language protecting such items as shift-differential pay and breaks.

"I think it's all going to work out well," Salters said.

Meanwhile, Local 1579 remains busy getting new members on board to help fill these and other jobs in the pipeline. "We're always organizing," Salters said.

Also, the local recently bought land outside of Augusta for construction of a $2 million upgrade to its joint apprenticeship and training center. "Our JATC is really humming," he said. "We were used to having 30 apprentices a year. It's 100 a year, now.

"We're blessed," Salters said. "We've got it pretty good."


Hundreds of Augusta, Ga., Local 1579 members are getting set to convert this site near the Savannah River into a facility for making plutonium used in national defense.