Many saw their Hanford jobs as temporary

By John Trumbo, Tri-City HeraldOctober 17, 2011 

KENNEWICK — Losing his job at Hanford is a game changer for Brion Godsil.

The 41-year-old Kennewick man was one of several hundred employees whose last day at CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. was Sept. 29.

Hanford started this year with 12,000 workers but nine months later about 2,000 positions had been cut, most because of the end of work paid for with $1.96 billion in federal economic stimulus spending.

Godsil was hired two years ago as a nuclear chemical operator, knowing it might end when the federal stimulus money ran out.

The job supported Godsil, his wife and three children. So what now?

"The natural reaction was to return to my previous profession," he said.

But instead of reaching for his carpenter's belt again, Godsil opted for a new career -- in health care. He wants to become a nurse or an ultrasound technician.

That means he is going back to college for the first time in 20 years.

The state will reimburse him for first-quarter education expenses, and then it will be up to Godsil to pursue education grants and financial aid.

"It's not a given. They tell you it's out there and you have to make it happen," he said.

Unemployment benefits will come as long as Godsil stays on his career retraining program. A vocational certificate comes at the end of two successful years of work.

"Nursing seemed like a good fit. The demand in the Tri-Cities is good and I like to help people," he said.

Retired to unemployed

Losing his job at Hanford means Randy Cannon needs to find another job to carry him through his retirement years.

Cannon, 57, of Kennewick, spent 15 months as a shift supervisor for fleet maintenance at Hanford until his position fell to the layoff ax two weeks ago.

Cannon retired four years ago after working 30 years for the Benton County Mosquito Control District. Getting a Hanford job brought in extra cash and benefits, but he knew the chances were slim that it would last.

"I was a stimulus funds hire. They said it could be gone when the funds ran out. Most of us who were hired knew going in it would be a matter of time until the job would end," he said.

Being retired doesn't mean a full ride into senior citizenship, Cannon said.

"Anymore, most retirement packages are not enough," he said last week after stopping at the WorkSource Center in Kennewick to register so he can visit the website to find upcoming job opportunities.

"I'll keep an eye out for jobs, and keep checking the (Mission Support Alliance) website," Cannon said.

New job elsewhere

Derrick Stein of Pasco chose not to wait for layoff notices.

With rumors circulating at Hanford 10 months ago that jobs would run out when the stimulus money did, Stein, 26, got busy searching for a new job anywhere he could find one.

That turned out to be in Hollywood, Md., where Stein now works as a radiation control technician at a nuclear power plant.

"We were told (at Hanford) to hang loose, but that wasn't good enough for me. If I'd waited until they told me (I was being terminated), I'd be laid off right now," Stein told the Herald in a telephone interview from Maryland.

As soon as the young married couple learned that stimulus money was petering out, they began scouting other opportunities.

"And it paid off," said his wife, Danica, replying to the Herald's Facebook request for people to share their Hanford layoff stories.

Derrick Stein said his last day at Hanford was July 3. Four days later, he, his wife and their infant son were in Maryland.

Within that week, he was doing the same job he had done in Washington, where the family's empty home in Pasco sat with a for sale sign in the front yard.

The home has since become a rental.

Derrick said he couldn't find a buyer, even after lowering the price significantly, so renting it was the family's last option.

"I was told my job was not tied to stimulus money and it would last through 2012," Stein said, adding that his employer and the labor union weren't much help to him when he needed it.

The young couple have roots on the East Coast, so moving back wasn't difficult, Danica said.

"I miss my house (in Pasco), but I wanted to come home and be close to family," she said.

On the move

Following job opportunities in the nuclear industry has taken Brigette Cagle from San Francisco to Toronto to Hanford. Now she is looking to hit the road again.

Cagle worked 18 months at Hanford in budget and finance for project control at Hanford.

"I wasn't told when I was hired it was with stimulus money, but being in finance, I learned right away it was," said the 32-year-old Richland woman.

This is the second time in less than three years that Cagle's job went away when the money ran out. Her position at a Canadian power plant in Toronto ended in February 2009. Before that, she was in Northern California.

"I'm looking to hop on another contract," she said. But Cagle is tired of moving every few years and would rather stay in Washington.

"There's no severance packages with contractors," she noted.

Cagle said being single and having no children makes her situation easier to handle than for laid-off employees who have families.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com

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