Jobs in Recovery

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More than 1,600 people are working at Savannah River Site in jobs funded by the federal government's economic recovery act.

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Jim Eluskie (center) of Aiken was recently hired by The Savannah River Site after being laid off.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jim Eluskie (center) of Aiken was recently hired by The Savannah River Site after being laid off.

When fully ramped up, there will be 3,000 people working at SRS on environmental clean-up and nuclear reactor decommissioning.

SRS reports that nearly 800 of those people were existing employees who would have lost their jobs if not for the $1.6 billion in projects.

But many of the new hires were also saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, finding employment after recession-related layoffs.

We share a few of their stories.

Bill Picciano

When Bill Picciano wrote a check to pay the mortgage in May, it wiped out what was left of the family's savings account.

Laid off by Kennametal in March, the North Augusta man and his family were living off a weekly $320 unemployment check -- after taxes, he was left with $277.

"We made some big adjustments. We cut back on a lot of things to keep it between the digits," Mr. Picciano said.

He was the night shift supervisor at the Martinez drill-bit manufacturing facility and saw his crew of 25 dwindle to four. "I figured I was next."

He was.

He went to a job-placement agency and submitted as many resumes as he could, including to SRS.

"I knew that the site was hiring and that there was stuff here I could do," Mr. Picciano said. But three months passed without a job offer.

His wife, Michelle, started looking for work, too, he said.

"We struggled. What little money I had saved up went out the door in those three months," Mr. Picciano said.

The 47-year-old father of two has received paperwork from his mortgage company to try to adjust his payment to fit in his unemployment budget. He was even in contact with the utility companies.

Then the call came -- a job at SRS for work under the Recovery Act. Since the beginning of June, Mr. Picciano has been working in logistics for one of the nuclear waste clean-up areas.

"Through a lot of prayer, God blessed me with this," he said. "It's been good ever since."

Before his year and a half at Kennametal, he worked at Boral Bricks and was laid off.

The Cleveland native came down to Augusta in 2002 because of a transfer within Thermal Ceramics. He was laid off in 2005, and spent another six months under a contract before that expired.

Mr. Picciano is faced with the possibility that his tenure with SRS could end in less than three years, a fourth layoff.

"I hope they like what I'm doing for them, a permanent position might open up," he said.

Melissa Roberts

Melissa Roberts was jobless for five months, getting the pink slip in February from an environmental consulting firm in Columbia.

"They were downsizing because of the recession. A lot of the environmental site assessment work had stopped since new building had stopped," she said.

"I was sacrificed to give people who had been there longer work to do."

For the last week, though, she's been working for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions at SRS.

Ms. Roberts has a specialized career, and job opportunities over the past five months were slim. She's a geologist with a graduate degree from Texas A&M.

The 31-year-old Lauren, S.C., native now lives in a rented house in Augusta.

"I moved here for this job," she said.

She attended one of the SRS job fairs in Barnwell County but saw the geology job opening on South Carolina's JobLink Web site.

For the last week, she's been in SRS' safety training. When that's complete, Ms. Roberts will monitor ground wells and write reports on their environmental cleanliness. She'll also have input in the installation of more wells.

"A large number of wells are going in, and we want strict geological control as to where they go in," she said.

That way they get "apples to apples" data.

Though there is relief that's she employed again, there is some worry for the future. The work funded by the Recovery Act will expire in less than three years.

"I'm afraid I'll get laid off again. I'll be looking for work again," she said. "I hope the economy improves and building starts up again."

Dennis Gumby

Dennis Gumby drives to SRS every morning from Thomson.

The daily round trip is 100 miles, he said.

"I tried to do something on my own for a year and it didn't work out. I was very grateful to come out here," he said. "I've enjoyed it. It is a good group of people."

After further training and planning. Mr. Gumby will be removing asbestos from R Reactor. The building that was once used in the production of nuclear weapons will later be filled with concrete. Its decommissioning is being funded by the Recovery Act.

Mr. Gumby, a new apprentice with the Carpenters Local 283 in Augusta, got his job at the SRS through the union. He joined in February to learn a trade and get a better job.

Before running his own maintenance company, he was a salesman for a lumber company and a garage door company.

"I never learned a trade. I never went to college," the 36-year-old Thomson man said. "I wanted to get into something that I could go somewhere with."

Mr. Gumby has been on the job since May, helping to prepare for the asbestos removal. He had to take his asbestos training at the union hall in Augusta before being hired at SRS, and he still attends weekly apprenticeship training.

His wife, Heidi, works for an orthopedic doctor and is going to be in training to become a registered nurse over the next two years.

"I hope I can stay out here doing something," he said. His Recovery Act work at SRS ends in September 2011.

The drive to SRS is 45 minutes in the morning, he said. It takes longer to get home.

"It's really not bad, as long as gas doesn't get back up to $4 a gallon," Mr. Gumby said. "This is the first job that I've had where I really enjoy getting up and going to work."

Jim Eluskie

In June, Michigan had the highest unemployment rate of any state -- 15.2 percent.

Jim Eluskie was living -- and not working -- there two months ago. He now stays in an apartment in Aiken and flies home often to see his family near Ann Arbor.

Since the beginning of June, he's been out among the pine trees at SRS providing technical oversight on soil sample drilling for one of the environmental clean-up missions funded by the Recovery Act.

"I was in-between jobs in Michigan," Mr. Eluskie said.

He had been laid off from a private company that no longer needed him as a project manager. He started the process of forming an environmental consulting company with a neighbor.

"This offer came up and was a good opportunity for me," Mr. Eluskie said.

Without the SRS job, he "would have been hitting the streets looking for clients. It is a depressed economy where I'm from. It hits everybody, not just the auto industry, Everything ties in together."

The hydro-geologist has 18 years of experience and holds a masters degree in geology from Michigan State University.

Losing his job was a blessing in disguise, he said, because he prefers field work to business management.

A contractor working for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions found him on a job site, he said.

He is among the class of experts that are needed on the site. Basically, he screens the samples that come out of drill rigs. The crews install monitoring wells or check existing ones to see if soil remediation is working.

His work hours fluctuate from day to day. He works longer days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to make up for flying back to Michigan to spend time with his family.

Moving them down to Georgia or South Carolina isn't an option. Selling the house would be difficult, partly because he helped build it.

Mr. Eluskie might have the consulting firm ready to go by the time the stimulus-funded work at SRS ends.

"We'll see what happens in 30 months to see where I go next," he said.

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soldout 08/02/09 - 09:03 am
I know these are some happy

I know these are some happy folks to have a paycheck again. It is a good time while we still have a job to learn things to save expenses. Things like using NAET and EFT for our health and reading Dr. David Williams newsletter. For investing get a copy of "beating the market the easy way" and for real aggressive investing with amazing results check out Best of all be a tither and a cheerful giver while you have a job and you may never be in financial trouble again. God takes care of His children.

zardoz35 08/02/09 - 10:52 am
When you read about folks

When you read about folks getting jobs, it's a good thing. SRNS, unfortunately, had nothing to do with the job increase. Actually, they were quite ready to lay off 800 existing workers. All these jobs are being created by the Obama administration's efforts to put people to work, that the Bush administration did such did a magnificant job putting out of work.
As one reads these stories, you often get the phrase (or paraphrase), "God answered my prayers" and got me this job. What a joke! I guess all the folks that didn't get hired just didn't pray enough or God likes you better! Keep the religious inuendo out of the paper. It's really ridiculious it's even included.

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