HAMTC accuses Battelle of unfair labor practices

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldMarch 25, 2014 

PNNL Sign Richland

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

PHOTO COURTESY PNNL

The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council has accused Battelle of engaging in unfair labor practices at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

The charge comes after Battelle and HAMTC negotiated for more than a year on a new contract for about 250 union workers at the national lab in Richland.

HAMTC has accused Battelle of engaging in "surface bargaining," making aggressive, take-it-or-leave-it demands and not making improvements to its wage proposal during bargaining. It also has not offered solid explanations for "provocative and aggressive proposals," according to the complaint.

"The facts and our bargaining record tell a different story," said Battelle spokesman Greg Koller.

Battelle has initiated all 30 negotiating sessions and six mediation sessions and has granted five contract extensions, he said.

Battelle blames HAMTC for refusing to let its members vote on Battelle's proposals, including the most recent offer made Feb. 24.

"These offers are highly competitive with the marketplace," Koller said. "Battelle's offers have been very fair, particularly in light of the current economy."

But HAMTC said in its complaint to the National Labor Relations board that Battelle's Feb. 24 offer was worse than its previous offer on multiple major economic issues.

HAMTC said Battelle is proposing no wage increase for the first three years of a new five-year contract, including no cost-of-living adjustments. The union wants increases in line with the 2 percent annual increases recently negotiated for Hanford workers, who make up the bulk of its membership.

Battelle has said that wages paid to its HAMTC workers are well above those in the local market and also average higher than those it pays at other national labs in New York, Tennessee, Idaho, Nevada and Texas.

Retirement benefits also have been a point of contention. Battelle wants to move workers from the Hanford pension plan to the same pension plan offered to its other workers, but HAMTC wants its workers at Battelle to continue to receive the same Hanford retirement plan that most other HAMTC workers receive.

The Battelle pension plan would reduce workers' pensions and require them to work longer, in part because of age restrictions on retirement benefits, according to HAMTC. The union agreed to forgo pensions for new hires under the Hanford plan.

Battelle said its offer provides both pensions and a 401(k) retirement savings plan. The pension offer comes as most private companies are no longer investing in pensions for workers, according to Battelle.

The Battelle 401(k) plan would require workers to contribute more to receive a lower employer match than the Hanford plan offers, according to HAMTC.

Battelle also offered a one-time bonus of $7,500 in lieu of wage increases and as appreciation for integrating into Battelle health insurance and retirement plans, Koller said.

But HAMTC calls the bonus a "bribe" and is unhappy that the offer splits workers, with longtime employees over age 60 not eligible for the bonus. However, they would be allowed to continue to accrue retirement benefits at a higher level than younger employees.

Battelle said it wants to reach agreement on a contract that sustains PNNL long term in the Tri-Cities and reflects good stewardship of taxpayer money.

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

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