Speech | Better Pay and Benefits · Manufacturing

Shuler at Third Way: Nuclear Power is Good for the Labor Movement

Washington, D.C.

Good morning and thank you to Third Way for hosting this event, and inviting the AFL-CIO to share our views on the future of nuclear energy. As a federation of 56 unions representing 12.5 million workers, we are committed to standing up together for workers, our communities and higher standards for everyone. That’s exactly what brings me here today.

The promotion of nuclear energy, whether in existing facilities or the successful development of new generations, is good for the labor movement and good for America. The AFL-CIO, my own union— the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers - the United Association, the Utility Workers, the Boilermakers and the Steelworkers all believe nuclear should be at the forefront of any clean energy strategy.

While we are working hard to make sure that our current nuclear facilities prosper, with recent victories in New York and Illinois, we are also keeping a close eye on the future of nuclear technology, including advanced Generation IV and small modular reactors.

I will be blunt—if we are not successful in enacting the energy and economic policies that ensure new reactors are designed and produced here in the United States, we will lose a generations-long opportunity for good jobs and clean, American-made energy.

We can and should work hard to extend the life of our current nuclear fleet, reduce the costs of oversight and value the carbon-free baseload electricity these plants provide. However, the long-term future of nuclear is in small modular reactors, where we just had a significant milestone with NuScale applying to have its design certified, and in the Generation IV technology that is under intense development now.

We in the labor movement believe strongly that these technologies will succeed, and that it is highly likely they will be used in the United States. The question is whether they will be produced here by our workers and our companies or if this opportunity will be lost to competitors like China and Russia. The possibility of the United States being dependent on foreign governments for civilian nuclear technologies should concern all of us across the political spectrum. We can’t let it happen.

Yes, jobs are at stake, good jobs, high-paying jobs, union jobs. The labor movement is proud to provide the highest quality labor at nuclear facilities, trained and educated through private funds negotiated in our collective bargaining agreements.

And why not? The nuclear industry supplies high quality, long-term, steady work that usually pays one-third more than the average job surrounding a plant. These are the type of family-sustaining careers the American people are demanding more of.

Successfully bringing advanced nuclear technologies to market with an American workforce and an American supply chain will create good jobs across the occupational spectrum, from engineers and scientists—including the amazing members of the International Federation of Technical and Professional Employees, to skilled construction crafts, to manufacturing and the specialty metals industry.

And we are already involved, contributing to the design phase for small modular reactors so that the systems are designed in a way that helps lower the cost of manufacturing and assembly, and cuts the time needed to complete the job. We are ready to do what we have always done—supply the best labor, update our educational programs to incorporate new tools and techniques and make sure we are in the best position to maintain a plentiful, productive nuclear workforce.

Let me leave you with two high-level policy priorities that the labor movement believes will move this industry forward. First, we must update the federal policy framework for nuclear power to preserve existing nuclear capacity, rebuild our supply chain capacity, build and license next-generation and modular reactors, and both modernize and adequately fund fuel-cycle activities.

Second, we believe strongly in the need for full tax and policy parity for both zero-carbon and carbon-capturing generation sources. Federal and state incentives for wind and solar generation are distorting electricity markets in ways that slow progress toward reducing electricity-sector emissions from base-load power. We can slow climate change and create domestic employment with equal treatment for all sources of greenhouse gas avoidance in the power sector.

I want to again thank everyone here today for your commitment to making the future of nuclear an American success story—with good jobs, high wages, clean energy and stronger unions. The labor movement stands ready to put our shoulder to the wheel and get this industry rolling. Working together, I know we can achieve our goals. Thank you.

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