Hanford tank farm workers offered choice to authorize strike

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldDecember 4, 2013 

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Workers are shown here at Hanford's C Tank Farm, where radioactive waste is being emptied from leak-prone underground tanks.

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Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC) workers at the nuclear reservation's tank farms will be asked Dec. 13 to either approve a proposed collective bargaining agreement or give their authorization to proceed to a possible strike.

The workers have turned down two earlier proposals by Washington River Protection Solutions, most recently Oct. 9. That agreement was approved by HAMTC workers at four other Hanford contractors.

The agreement on the table now is the same, but minus a one-time payment of $1,000 per worker offered by Hanford contractors for ratification of an agreement by Oct. 11.

The 650 HAMTC workers at the tank farms were sent a letter this week from HAMTC President Dave Molnaa, saying that after "considerable and painful deliberations," the negotiations committee recommends members approve the proposed agreement.

Getting that agreement back took considerable persuasion, Molnaa said.

HAMTC negotiators, after talking to members, had proposed that the offer voted down Oct. 9 be amended to eliminate mandatory overtime, continue current overtime and premium pay policies, include a $2,500 signing bonus and change the start time of the hot-weather day shift from 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.

Workers wanted a larger signing bonus because no wage increase was offered for 2012, Molnaa said. The last collective bargaining agreement was set to expire March 31, 2012, but was extended three times until early 2013.

Washington River Protection Solutions rejected those changes and came back with a proposed agreement with no guaranteed 40-hour work week, no provisions for Hanford-wide seniority or for continuity of service, and the ability to contract out HAMTC-certified work at will.

HAMTC negotiators found that proposal "drastic and unrealistic," according to Molnaa.

Washington River Protection Solutions declined to comment on negotiations.

"It is important to understand the implications of another ratification vote and its possible rejection," Molnaa said in the letter.

The revisions offered by the tank farm contractor were presented as a formal "last, best and final" offer, allowing the proposal to be implemented if it is rejected by membership, according to Molnaa. HAMTC tank farm workers have been without a collective bargaining agreement for about nine months.

"Obviously, these new revisions are unacceptable and must not be subjected to implementation," Molnaa said in the letter.

The HAMTC negotiation committee had no choice but to do its best to get that proposal off the table to preserve "extremely crucial historical contract provisions," the letter said.

HAMTC officials believe they have exhausted all their negotiating resources, including unfair labor practice charges, legislative action, international union intervention, workplace activism and an overwhelming rejection of the last two proposals to persuade DOE and the tank farm contractors that the proposed agreement is not in the best interest of workers, according to the letter.

"Now is the time for the membership to decide as to what extent they are willing to go in order to enforce their position," the letter said.

Although a "no" vote authorizes a strike, it does not determine a strike would be held.

HAMTC workers do the hands-on tasks at the Hanford tank farms, where Washington River Protection Solutions manages 56 million gallons of waste in underground tanks. The contractor is working to empty waste from leak-prone single-shell tanks into newer double-shell tanks until it can be treated for disposal.

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

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