1,600 layoffs in the works at Hanford

Two Hanford contractors announced late Wednesday afternoon that about 1,600 employees will have to be laid off as federal economic stimulus spending ends later this year.

Hanford workers had hoped an early retirement incentive program would ease the end of the $1.96 billion of extra spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act at Hanford.

But the Department of Energy told Hanford contractors Wednesday that it would not approve the proposed Special Voluntary Retirement Program.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., which was assigned $1.3 billion of the work paid for with stimulus money, is hardest hit. It is assigned to central Hanford and ground water cleanup projects.

It told workers that it planned a two-phase plan, with voluntary and involuntary layoffs to cut up to 1,350 jobs during July, August and September. Most of the economic stimulus money must be spent by Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2011.

Mission Support Alliance told its workers that it expected about 300 involuntary layoffs by Sept. 29.

Two other contractors, Washington Closure Hanford and Washington River Protection Solutions, do not expect layoffs tied to the end of economic stimulus money. And Bechtel National's work to build the vitrification plant at Hanford did not receive stimulus money.

At CH2M Hill, workers will be allowed to volunteer for layoffs during a 21-day period starting in late May. Those who are approved will receive one week's severance pay for every year worked up to20 years. In addition, workers may elect continued medical coverage under a DOE program for displaced workers.

After voluntary layoffs are approved, CH2M Hill will work with other Hanford contractors to identify potential available jobs. Involuntary layoffs then will be based on positions needed for CH2M Hill's work and the results of a rating and ranking process.

Workers who are involuntarily laid off will receive the same benefits as workers who volunteer and are picked for layoffs.

Mission Support Alliance, which provides sitewide Hanford services, did not receive stimulus money directly, but its workload increased to provide servicesfor ramped-up environmental cleanup.

It plans two voluntary layoffs. The first will open next month, with workers who volunteer and are picked leaving their jobs in March or April. The second will be in May, with workers leaving their jobs by Sept. 30.

After voluntary layoffs are approved, Mission Support Alliance will determine the number of additional jobs to be cut.

The contractor did not outline its severance pay plans in its announcement to employees, but said workers would receive severance pay and be eligible for extended health benefits.

WorkSource Columbia Basin will put together a rapid response team to help Hanford employees find new jobs, according to Mission Support Alliance. It will offer services such as a resume bank and training ranging from computer skills to specific occupational training.

DOE also has arranged for a virtual worker transition center, which will offer computerized job search services nationwide to environmental cleanup workers.

Washington Closure Hanford expects that the 107 workers it hired with economic stimulus money will be kept as normal attrition opens jobs. The contractor is responsible for Hanford cleanup along the Columbia River.

Washington River Protection Solutions, which manages the underground tanks of radioactive waste, hired about 250 workers with economic stimulus money. However, long-term plans call for its annual budget -- separate from stimulus money -- to increase in fiscal 2012. Attrition and increased work could provide jobs for those being paid now with stimulus money, said spokesman Jerry Holloway.

However, Washington River Protection Solutions and Washington Closure Hanford both should have less money to spend on subcontracts in fiscal 2012.

Earlier, DOE announced that it would offer employment buyouts for 69 of the approximately 410 employees at its Hanford offices in Richland. It offered a $25,000 incentive.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the decision not to offer an early retirement option to contractor workers at Hanford made no sense. Executing the layoffs will cost$71 million, according to his staff.

He's concerned both about the 1,600 workers and their families of those losing their jobs during difficult economic times and also the impact on environmental cleanup, he said in a statement. Hanford needs steady budgets, not spikes and valleys in funding, he's argued.

"Layoffs like this are obviously harmful to workers and are counterproductive to the ongoing efforts to hire and retain new workers as many at Hanford near retirement," he said. "These impacts are a direct result of poor decisions and poor planning by the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., and I could not be more disappointed by today's announcement."

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com