1,100 Hanford layoffs planned

The Department of Energy has authorized its environmental cleanup contractors at Hanford to lay off up to 1,100 more workers in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

That's in addition to up to 1,985 layoffs already announced this year, the majority of which will be Sept. 29.

Hanford started the year with about 12,000 employees, meaning the potential layoffs announced this year would cut jobs by about a quarter.

That does not include the jobs at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where about 50 jobs are expected to be trimmed from its staff of about 4,470 in Richland.

The most recent projected layoffs are to prepare for the new fiscal year federal budget, which is expected to reduce Hanford's annual budget. The number of layoffs required will not be known until Congress passes a Hanford budget.

The projected 1,100 new layoffs will start with up to 475 jobs at the Hanford tank farms, where 56 million gallons of radioactive waste awaiting treatment are stored in underground tanks. The last day of work for those employees will be no later than Oct. 13.

The layoffs announced earlier this year are mostly linked to the end of federal economic stimulus money. Hanford received $1.96 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money that should be mostly spent by Sept. 29.

The 1,985 layoffs announced earlier this year also include up to 210 jobs at Washington Closure Hanford in fiscal 2012, as it begins the gradual ramp down of work as cleanup along the Columbia River is completed.

The Tri-Cities has known that layoffs were coming as the last of the Recovery Act money was spent, said Gary Petersen, vice president of Hanford programs for the Tri-City Development Council.

But the layoffs announced Thursday are different, he said. They are linked to the annual budget money Hanford receives.

DOE is allowing the cleanup contractors to cut up to 1,100 positions starting soon, rather than waiting until a budget is approved.

If a substantially lower budget is approved months into the fiscal year, contractors run the risk of overspending early in the year and having to make even deeper cuts in the remainder of the year to meet the budget.

"By approving work force restructuring even before we receive our final budget for next year, we are giving our contractors more time to plan for the transition," said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree.

Under the administration's budget proposal for fiscal 2012, Washington River Protection Solutions, the tank farm contractor, would have received $521 million. This year it received more than that with $397 million in annual baseline money plus $157 million in economic stimulus money.

The House budget proposes dropping the $521 million proposed budget for the coming year to $408 million. The Senate has yet to take up the budget. If Congress does not pass a budget, the tank farms must operate on a budget based on the $397 million in baseline money in received this year.

The announced cuts of up to 475 jobs at the tank farms are based on what Washington River Protection Solutions believes is the worst case funding scenario. The number could be adjusted after Congress returns in early September from its August recess.

Washington River Protection Solutions had announced no layoffs tied to Recovery Act money, because long-term DOE spending plans called for an increase in spending at the tank farms to prepare for the start of treatment of tank waste at the Hanford vitrification plant. That would create jobs to replace the Recovery Act jobs.

Work needs to be done to prepare to transfer the waste to the vitrification plant and to store the glassified waste after it is created. Plans also called for increasing the money spent to retrieve radioactive waste from leak-prone underground tanks.

"I know this is sobering news," said Chuck Spencer, president of Washington River Protection Solutions. "Significantly reduced funding levels appear likely to take effect Oct. 1, and we must prepare to reduce our work force to match expected decrease in funding."

Tank farm workers can volunteer for layoffs until Sept. 1.

Union workers will be given layoff notices Sept. 19 and their last day of work will be Sept. 29.

About 85 tank farm union workers already were expected to be laid off Sept. 29 as part of Hanford's union "bump and roll" policy that eliminates jobs of workers with the least seniority sitewide when any contractor has layoffs.

Nonunion tank farm employees will be given layoff notices Oct. 3 and will work no later than Oct. 13. They will be eligible for severance pay of a week's pay per year worked up to a maximum of 20 years.

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. told workers Thursday that it is not planning to lay off more workers in fiscal 2012, but that will depend on the budget Congress passes.

It plans to lay off about 1,350 union and nonunion workers Sept. 29, including experienced and new workers for CH2M Hill and its preselected subcontractors, as Recovery Act spending ends and it adjusts its mix of skills needed for the coming fiscal year. The total includes about 150 workers approved for voluntary layoffs in June.

Mission Support Alliance told workers Thursday that a possibility of budget shortfalls could require further staff cuts in the coming months. It laid off 125 workers in March and is preparing to lay off up to 300 more Sept. 29.

Washington Closure Hanford does not anticipate any job cuts linked to the fiscal 2012 budget. However, it has notified workers that it will be cutting up to 210 jobs in the coming fiscal year linked to the ramp down of work as cleanup along the Columbia River is completed.

"We realize this is already a difficult time for the work force as stimulus work comes to an end," Tyree said. "The department is doing everything possible to minimize the overall impacts to the work force and community in the coming years."

CH2M Hill has organized a job fair 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at TRAC for Hanford workers, including those laid off earlier this year.

* More Hanford news at hanfordnews.com.