Relationship with Hanford contractors, union grows tense

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 8, 2013 

The relationship between the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council and several Hanford contractors has grown tenser since a collective bargaining agreement covering 2,600 Hanford workers expired.

Four contractors have notified workers they will no longer deduct union dues from worker paychecks, according to Dave Molnaa, HAMTC president. In addition, they will no longer pay hourly wages for time spent by workers negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement as delegates for the 15 unions under the HAMTC umbrella.

"In our opinion, this latest attack has tipped the balance of fair play by injuring the collective bargaining agent -- HAMTC and its negotiating committee," Molnaa said.

It limits HAMTC's capacity to provide effective, meaningful and responsive representation, he said, accusing the contractors of attempting to evade their duty to bargain collectively.

In addition, it creates an atmosphere of discontent at the Hanford nuclear reservation, which is a safety concern, he said.

The changes come after a collective bargaining agreement ended Feb. 2 without contractors agreeing to another extension. Negotiations for a new HAMTC agreement began more than a year ago and the previous agreement had been extended three times since March 31.

For 50 years, Hanford workers have been paid wages for time spent on bargaining, Molnaa said.

It seems discriminatory for Hanford contractors to continue to pay their committee members for preparing proposals and attending meetings but not to pay union workers for the same activities, he said.

He has received similar letters from CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., Mission Support Alliance, Washington River Protection Solutions and Advanced Technologies and Laboratories, he said.

CH2M Hill, which has taken the lead in negotiations, said in its letter that it will "continue to meet our bargaining obligations and we look forward to reaching a replacement agreement." It also offered to meet and discuss the changes to the dues collection and wage payments.

In a Jan. 31 email to HAMTC obtained by the Herald, William Engel, the CH2M Hill director of labor relations, wrote that "we do not believe it is in the best interest of the parties to have these negotiations drag on any longer, since we have been at the bargaining table for 13 months."

"Unfortunately, it is clear after all these many meetings that there are certain issues that we simply will not reach agreement on for reasons that we both understand," he wrote. "However, we are committed to doing our best to get to a point where we can provide HAMTC with a complete proposal that you can take to your membership, hopefully to be accepted as we all recognize the changing climate that affects all of us on the Hanford Site."

Molnaa blames what he calls an aggressive stance by contractors on the Department of Energy.

He is "personally convinced DOE is not only advocating the aggressive behavior, but is directing the behavior as well," he said.

DOE does not agree, said DOE spokesman Cameron Hardy. DOE is not involved in union negotiations and has reminded employees that they should not be involved, he said.

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, Hardy said.

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

All Hanford contractors except Washington Closure Hanford involved in current collective bargaining want mandatory overtime, no double time until hours worked in a week reach 56 and no meals for overtime workers, despite their remote work locations, Molnaa said.

A refusal to deduct union dues from paychecks creates chaos, Molnaa said.

"The idea behind it is to burden unions with financial impacts," he said. "It's a bargaining strategy. I think it's unfair."

Not paying wages for delegates from the unions during negotiations cripples HAMTC, Molnaa said. He's scheduling meetings in the evenings and has to schedule fewer of them to work around delegates' other obligations, which will extend negotiations, he said.

HAMTC still wants to negotiate in good faith with all the contractors to reach a fair settlement, he said.

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