Washington River Protection Solutions cancels tank farm furloughs

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJune 4, 2013 

More relief for furloughed Hanford workers was offered Tuesday as the tank farm contractor canceled plans for mandatory time off this fiscal year.

Nonunion workers at Washington River Protection Solutions had been required to take 2.5 to 6.5 weeks of time off between spring and the end of September because of the forced federal budget cuts called sequestration.

However, it has received $48 million of additional money already budgeted by the Department of Energy but switched from other projects in a process called reprogramming.

That puts the final tally of furloughed workers at about 1,800 across the site, far less than the 3,000 furloughs once projected, according to the Tri-City Development Council. Most of those remaining furloughs are for one week.

However, many workers remain without jobs.

TRIDEC estimates that 600 workers have lost jobs because of sequestration at Hanford.

That includes 235 workers, the majority of them Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers, who were laid off by DOE prime contractors and some of their primary subcontractors at Hanford.

But in addition, workers lost jobs when work for other subcontractors, many of them small businesses, was scaled back. The work awarded or planned to be awarded to subcontractors was cut, postponed or eliminated.

Washington River Protection Solutions began hiring 100 union workers Monday with part of its additional $48 million, with the first 50 already hired. It also expects to hire for some professional positions because of openings caused by retirements.

With the additional workers and more hours for nonunion workers, it plans to add a second shift of work at the C Tank Farm, said John Britton, Washington River Protection Solutions spokesman. Work will ramp up to allow waste retrieval from three tanks at once, like last year.

DOE is required to have all 16 underground tanks in the group called C Tank Farm emptied by September 2014 under a court-enforced consent decree, and seven of the tanks still contain waste above regulatory standards.

The money also will be used to prepare to operate the tank farm evaporator in 2014 to reduce the volume of liquid waste held in tanks. The volume reduction is required if a decision is made to empty double-shell Tank AY-102, which has developed a leak contained within its inner and outer tank walls, and to speed up retrieval of waste from leak-prone single-shell tanks.

Money also will be spent on infrastructure upgrades.

Although CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. and Mission Support Alliance still are requiring furloughs, they have been cut from the five weeks initially required to one week, according to DOE.

Bechtel National also had warned employees that they might be furloughed for two weeks this summer because of lack of money for work ready to be done at the Hanford vitrification plant under construction.

However, reprogramming allowed money budgeted for the plant's Pretreatment Facility, where construction has stopped because of technical issues, to be switched to other parts of the plant where construction is continuing.

Workers at the vit plant were told in mid May that the first week of furloughs would not be needed and then were told Friday that the second possible furlough week also was no longer under consideration.

Workers at Washington Closure Hanford were not required to take furloughs although 20 employees were laid off because of sequestration. DOE did not lay off or furlough any of its employees.

Some Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers at the tank farms volunteered to take time off to save the jobs of their co-workers.

Furloughs cannot be required of union workers under collective bargaining workers. The union workers who signed voluntary agreements to take time off no longer will by bound by the agreements.

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service