Hanford contractors to lay off 450 workers

November 21, 2013 

governor jay inslee washington hanford nuclear reservation

Crews work at the Hanford C Tank Farm, a group of underground single-shell tanks holding radioactive waste.

FILE PHOTO — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

— Three Hanford contractors told employees Thursday that they plan to lay off up to 450 workers, with most of the layoffs planned in December and January.

Union and nonunion workers are expected to lose their jobs.

The contractors are reacting to an uncertain Hanford budget for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. With no federal budget passed by Congress for the year, the Department of Energy is operating under a continuing resolution that keeps funding at fiscal 2013 levels — which included sequestration, or a mandatory federal budget reduction.

To deal with sequestration in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, contractors used some budgeted money saved from previous years, but that money has been spent. Some also cut costs by furloughing workers, or requiring them to take leave, to meet their reduced budgets.

Hardest-hit this year is Washington River Protection Solutions, the Hanford tank farm contractor managing 56 million gallons of radioactive waste held in underground tanks.

The waste is left from the past production of plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Last year, $48 million was shifted from the Hanford vitrification plant project to the tank farms, but a similar shift of money is not expected this year. That drops its budget to $409 million under the consent decree. The Obama administration had proposed a budget of $520 million for the tank farms this fiscal year.

Because of the lower budget, Washington River Protection Solutions plans to reduce its work force of about 1,600 employees by up to 250 employees by Jan. 30.

The DOE contractor will ask for volunteers for layoffs, with applications accepted Dec. 2 to Dec. 13. Changes in the Hanford pension system that reduce the benefits accrued by nonunion workers starting in January could make the voluntary layoffs attractive to some workers eligible for retirement.

Those approved for voluntary layoffs, which carry the same severance packages as other layoffs, would leave employment by Dec. 19.

More layoffs are expected to be needed to reach the tentative target of 250 fewer workers, and those employees would leave the job no later than Jan. 30.

Up to 100 more layoffs are expected at CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., the DOE contractor for much of the environmental cleanup work in central Hanford and for groundwater cleanup. It employs about 1,350 people.

About 80 positions are expected to be cut in December and January. It will seek volunteers for layoffs on the same schedule as the tank farm contractor, with those leaving voluntarily gone by Dec. 19 and other layoffs completed by the end of January.

About 20 more jobs are expected to be cut between April and the end of September.

DOE budget issues are leading to less work by CH2M Hill to treat contaminated groundwater and to make progress toward treating radioactive sludge now stored in underwater containers at the K West Reactor basin. CH2M Hill also expects some changes in the mix of work skills needed as some work is completed.

Mission Support Alliance also plans to reduce its work force of 1,580 employees by up to 100 workers through September, the end of the fiscal year. It provides support services across Hanford, such as information technology and utilities, and demand for its services decreases as work by other contractors decreases.

At least 55 positions are expected to be cut by the end of January, with the remainder of the excess jobs cut from April through September, the last half of fiscal 2014. It plans to follow the same schedule as CH2M Hill and the tank farm contractors for the initial layoffs.

Firefighters and union security officers will not be considered for voluntary layoffs at Mission Support Alliance.

Washington Closure Hanford plans no layoffs tied to the uncertainty of the fiscal 2014 budget, but continues to reduce staff as needed as it approaches the end of its contract in fall 2015. It is responsible for cleanup of Hanford along the Columbia River and most of that work is planned to be completed in 2015.

Bechtel National, which is building the vitrification plant, also announced no layoffs.

The continuing resolution lasts until mid-January and Congress is expected to act by then, possibly extending the continuing resolution.

Another government shutdown also is possible. However, lobbyist Tim Peckinpaugh said he does not expect Congress to allow that to happen again. Peckinpaugh, the Tri-City Development Council’s lobbyist with K and L Gates in Washington, D.C., spoke Thursday at a TRIDEC community lunch in Richland.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R- Wis., are in talks now to set a top federal budget number, Peckinpaugh said. If successful, that would allow appropriation bills, like the one that sets a budget for Hanford, to be passed.

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