Union workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation are entitled to back pay estimated at more than $140,000 for sick leave after Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took up their complaint.
“Our government has a moral and legal obligation to clean up Hanford, and that responsibility extends to making sure every worker at the site is being treated with respect and compensated fairly for their work,” Murray said.
A prevailing wage is set by the Department of Labor for Hanford, based largely on the collective bargaining agreements of the site’s more than 3,000 unionized workers.
The Department of Labor uses Department of Energy information submitted annually for base pay and fringe benefits to determine the prevailing wage for the site’s workers across multiple industries and collective bargaining agreements.
The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 598 raised questions after Washington state voters passed a new paid sick leave law in 2016 that set a minimum rate of one hour of paid sick leave accrued for every 40 hours worked.
When Local 598 checked to confirm whether the new sick leave benefit would be paid by DOE in the amount the union expected, they instead heard that workers would receive a smaller amount of sick leave pay than the union believed was required by law.
The union determined the pay discrepancy was based on what DOE was reporting as a wage and what it was reporting as a fringe benefit.
Sick leave calculation refigured
A payroll deduction of $8 is made for each hour worked and sent to an account of the worker’s choosing, such as a house payment account.
The union contended the $8 was part of the base pay and should be used to calculate sick pay benefits, but DOE was counting it as a fringe benefit when it calculated sick leave benefits as the new law took effect in January 2018, according to Murray’s office.
The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries agreed with the union on the base pay issue, but DOE and the Department of Labor continued to disagree.
Murray, as the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, stepped in to help two months ago.
After she contacted the Department of Labor, it agreed that the union’s base pay had been incorrectly reported by DOE and that union members were entitled to back pay, according to Murray’s staff.
The issue of how the $8 was reported also could affect prevailing wage determinations, but that issue has yet to be addressed.
“As a voice for Hanford and Washington state in Congress, I commend the members of Local 598 for bringing this to light, and am glad I was able to help push the federal government to do what’s right in taking the first step toward making these workers whole,” Murray said.
She said she would continue to make sure that Hanford employees “get every last penny they’ve worked for.”
The Department of Energy declined to comment on the issue.