Hanford furloughs, layoffs might start Monday

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldOctober 15, 2013 

Hanford workers remove the core from Tank C-107, which holds radioactive and hazardous chemical waste, in December 2010.

PHOTO COURTESY DOE

The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council expects its 2,300 Hanford workers to be off work starting Monday if the federal shutdown continues.

Many other Hanford workers also are expected to be off work on furloughs starting Monday.

The Department of Energy and its Hanford contractors have had little to say about plans for Hanford because of the federal government shutdown, largely on instructions from federal officials in Washington, D.C.

But after meeting with Hanford cleanup contractors Monday, HAMTC President Dave Molnaa said those contractors are prepared to notify union and nonunion workers today if they are expected to be furloughed or released from work Oct. 21. Because of union collective bargaining agreements, union workers would be "released" or laid off, while nonunion workers could be furloughed or placed on temporary leave.

The Tri-City Development Council believes that about 80 percent of Hanford's 8,500 workers, the number with security badges, will be notified they are being furloughed or released from work. That would reduce staffing to the minimum DOE believes is required to temporarily maintain safe and secure conditions at the nuclear reservation.

Hanford also has an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 subcontractor workers without security badges, including suppliers, most of whom will not be receiving any Hanford money, according to TRIDEC.

DOE has said only that if the government shutdown continues, it will need to take further action to shut down nonessential operations and furlough DOE and DOE contractor employees.

However, some Hanford managers have been telling their workers what to expect ahead of official notifications of furloughs planned if the government shutdown continues.

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, fewer than 40 staff have been issued furlough notices or were taking vacation in lieu of furloughs Tuesday, according to the lab spokesman Greg Koller.

"It's impossible to speculate with any confidence on what the future might bring in the way of furloughs or forced vacations as our funding is complex, with funding streams originating with several offices and programs within DOE, as well as from other federal agencies," Koller said.

However, TRIDEC believes that for each week the federal shutdown continues, the DOE national lab in Richland will require more furloughs or forced vacations among its approximately 4,000 workers in the Tri-Cities.

Should the federal government shutdown continue over many weeks, about 9,000 Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory workers could be off the job, TRIDEC has estimated.

HAMTC was told by contractors that its employees would be "released," but HAMTC says that what is planned qualifies as a layoff and contractors need to follow union collective bargaining agreements covering layoffs. The agreements include seniority rules and requirements for separation benefits.

Contractors asked if HAMTC would allow some specific union employees to continue to work, but that would violate collective bargaining agreements requiring employment to be based on seniority, Molnaa said. HAMTC refused, saying it would not allow contractors to pick and choose what parts of collective bargaining agreements they would follow, Molnaa said.

Contractors have said that if HAMTC will not agree to its terms, all HAMTC workers will be off the job, Molnaa said. Under a worst case scenario, some workers could be told to return to work without pay because of Hanford projects that must be monitored, he said.

Seniority rules were retained after a year of tough bargaining that led to worker votes last week approving collective bargaining agreements between HAMTC and four of the five Hanford cleanup contractors, Molnaa said.

HAMTC plans to file an unfair labor practice claim with the National Labor Relations Board, he said. It also will be seeking back pay when workers return to their jobs.

Typically Hanford contractors would file notices of layoffs 60 days in advance as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act. However, contractors have said that because of unforeseen circumstances, they are not required to follow the WARN Act, Molnaa said.

Contractors will pay for medical and dental premiums of HAMTC workers, including the workers' share, until the end of November and then will re-evaluate, he said. Workers would be required to pay back their share of the premiums when they return to work after the federal government shutdown.

Contractors have agreed not to dispute claims for unemployment filed by workers, he said.

PNNL has notified HAMTC that it will follow its collective bargaining agreement, which would include asking for volunteers for layoffs and offering separation pay. Molnaa said. The national lab has 250 HAMTC workers.

While Molnaa is unhappy about the situation that may face workers next week, he does not blame the contractors. It is illegal for them to spend money that Congress has not appropriated, he said. He placed the blame on greed and selfishness in Washington, D.C.

However, he still will insist that contractors follow the collective bargaining agreement and will be filing grievances with the contractors, he said.

"I'm extremely disappointed with our congressman," he said.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said Monday that he is focused on a solution that reopens the federal government as quickly as possible, reduces unnecessary spending and debt and minimizes impacts to Hanford and national lab workers.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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