Hanford

Hanford whistleblower case to be heard in Kennewick

Employees at the Hanford vitrification plant prepare to lift a piping module into the Pretreatment Facility before construction on the building stopped because of technical issues. Many construction workers were laid off in 2011 and 2012.
Employees at the Hanford vitrification plant prepare to lift a piping module into the Pretreatment Facility before construction on the building stopped because of technical issues. Many construction workers were laid off in 2011 and 2012. Bechtel National

The case of Hanford whistleblower Walt Ford will be heard this week after Bechtel National objected to a Department of Labor ruling in his favor.

The Department of Labor said in a ruling made public in August that Bechtel National should pay several months of back wages, attorney fees and $25,000 to Ford, a millwright.

The federal investigation concluded that Ford’s role as a whistleblower in his 35 years at Hanford contributed to a decision to lay him off in November 2011.

“In 2011 and 2012, Bechtel National laid off a significant percentage of the craft workforce in a project-wide rolling layoff when construction was suspended on the Pretreatment Facility and most of the High Level Waste Facility,” Bechtel said in a statement Monday. “Mr. Ford was among those laid off.”

Investigation concluded Ford would have been laid off within a matter of months.

But the Department of Labor found that Ford “was scrutinized and treated more harshly than other employees.” He was ranked 25th out of 26 millwrights the month before he lost his job.

The department’s contested ruling would have required Bechtel to pay back wages of about $4,500 a month from mid-November 2011 through March 2012, plus interest. Had he not lost his job in the November round of layoffs, he would have been laid off by the end of March, the department found.

The department did not require Bechtel to give Ford his job back, as Ford had requested, because he likely would have been laid off in the next few months.

The hearing, which starts Tuesday at the Benton County courthouse, will consider the case on its merits rather than relying on the initial ruling. It is expected to last four days.

Initial order would have granted Ford $25,000, several months pay and $7,070 in attorney fees.

“We are confident that a full review of the evidence will demonstrate that we carried out the layoff properly,” Bechtel said in a statement.

Ford, who worked at Hanford for more than 30 years, had a history of speaking up for safety, according to Hanford Challenge, which is helping represent him at the hearing.

He initially filed safety concerns when he was working for former Hanford contractor Fluor Hanford at the K Basin spent fuel project in the early 2000s.

He followed that by testifying on behalf of his Fluor supervisor in a Department of Labor investigation that found in favor of the supervisor. Richard Cecil had been laid off after he challenged a 2003 management decision to operate a crane moving radioactive spent fuel despite a warning its brakes might be faulty.

After Ford was hired by Bechtel in 2007, he reported safety concerns, including unsafe actions of fellow employees, according to the Department of Labor investigation. He was selected by Bechtel to start the Materials Handling Facility Safety Council and was picked as chairman by his coworkers.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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