Hanford union contract to expire without extension in place

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 1, 2013 

Hanford contractors have refused to extend the collective bargaining agreement with the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council, said Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president.

The agreement, which covers about 2,600 workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation, expires Saturday.

The last collective bargaining agreement ended March 31, but it has been extended three times, Molnaa said. Negotiations on a new agreement began more than a year ago, and little progress has been made with some contractors, he said.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., which has taken the lead in negotiations among most Hanford contractors employing HAMTC workers, has declined to discuss specifics of negotiations.

However, it issued a statement saying, "we have not reached agreement extending the current expiration date." Although CH2M Hill will be working without a replacement collective bargaining agreement, negotiations will continue, the statement said.

The five Hanford contractors employing HAMTC workers sent out messages to their employees Thursday -- the end of this work week for many Hanford workers -- notifying them that the collective bargaining agreement would expire this weekend.

"We will continue to operate in accordance with our regular work schedules and work rules," workers were told in most of the memos.

The contractors and HAMTC are required to adhere to some of the expiring collective bargaining agreement, but some elements will no longer be valid, Molnaa said.

HAMTC workers no longer will be prohibited from striking, and contractors no longer will be prohibited from locking out workers, he said. Contractors will not be required to withhold union dues from paychecks, he said. And HAMTC cannot bring grievances to arbitration, he said.

Some workers chose to clean out their lockers Thursday, fearful that there could be a lockout, he said.

At the Plutonium Finishing Plant, high-risk work was paused for about two hours Thursday but will resume today, which is a workday at the plant. Management was concerned that workers had questions and concerns and would not be fully focused on work.

"We're not even close to being done with bargaining, so I don't understand this," Molnaa said about the lack of an extension for the collective bargaining agreement.

Most contractors have presented proposals that are "very aggressive," he said. He accused contractors of trying to scare workers into signing on to a new agreement by not putting a new extension in place.

"We are going to solve this at the table," he said. "They should not take it out on the work force."

CH2M Hill has proposed a 4 percent decrease in pay and no wage increase for the next four years, Molnaa said. It also had proposed replacing the traditional pension plan that many HAMTC workers have with a 401(k) style plan.

HAMTC has not received wage and benefit proposals from most other contractors, but expects them to fall in line with CH2M Hill's proposal, Molnaa said.

Washington Closure Hanford is the exception, and Molnaa said HAMTC is close to agreement on key portions.

Washington Closure is in a different position than other contractors because most work to clean up Hanford along the Columbia River is scheduled to be completed in 2015. Work being done by other contractors is expected to continue for decades, although the contracts are periodically rebid.

Other contractors employing HAMTC workers include Washington River Protection Solutions, Mission Support Alliance and Advanced Technologies and Laboratories.

Some progress has been made in negotiating parts of HAMTC collective bargaining agreements, including retaining a sitewide seniority program, Molnaa said.

However, all contractors except Washington Closure want mandatory overtime, no double time until hours worked in week reach 56 and no meals for overtime workers, despite their remote work locations, Molnaa said.

"We will continue to pursue a fair and equitable solution at the negotiations table," said CH2M Hill in its statement.

Its memo to employees said CH2M Hill "recognizes and values the bargaining unit work force as a key to the success of this project."

Mike Johnson, president of Washington River Protection Solutions, told employees he was disappointed that negotiations have been ongoing for more than a year but an agreement has not been reached.

"It is our desire that more productive negotiations on a new agreement occur quickly," he said in his message.

Department of Energy employees received a memo about the collective bargaining agreement expiration that included a reminder that "current negotiations are strictly between the contractors and HAMTC."

DOE sets limits on what contractor expenses it will reimburse based on market conditions and the conditions set out in individual contracts.

However, DOE does not mediate or resolve contractor and union disputes, nor can it take sides on issues being actively bargained, DOE officials have said as negotiations continue.

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