Hanford contractor preparing to lay off remaining workers

CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. is expected to take over Washington Closure Hanford work at the 618-10 Burial Ground. Workers on the project are expected to transfer to CH2M Hill.
CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. is expected to take over Washington Closure Hanford work at the 618-10 Burial Ground. Workers on the project are expected to transfer to CH2M Hill.

Washington Closure Hanford will lay off its remaining 435 workers starting in July as its Department of Energy contract ends three months later.

It notified the state of Washington of the pending layoffs Tuesday, as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, Act.

The contractor’s peak employment was about 1,200 workers, including staff augmentation and corporate workers, before it began finishing projects under its contract and ramping down for the end of its work about five years ago, according to Washington Closure.

Washington Closure was assigned to complete most of the Hanford nuclear reservation cleanup along the Columbia River over the span of a decade.

It was Hanford’s first “closure contract,” meaning that the the assigned environmental cleanup work would be largely completed — rather than rebid and projects taken over by a new cleanup contractor at the end of a decade.

About 387 nonunion workers have left the contractor since the ramp-down began, including 300 workers who requested help finding new jobs.

About 95 percent of those have been placed in new positions. Many of them transferred to other jobs at Hanford and some are working elsewhere for Washington Closure parent companies, which include AECOM, Bechtel and CH2M Hill.

The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council workers assigned to Washington Closure are eligible to claim the jobs of workers elsewhere at Hanford if they have more seniority than those workers.

200 Current employees expected to transfer to other Hanford jobs

Of the 435 workers now remaining at Washington Closure, about 200 will transfer to other Hanford jobs. The majority are expected to transfer to CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. as it takes over some of Washington Closure’s current work, including finishing cleanup of the 618-10 Burial Ground and operating the Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility, a massive lined landfill in central Hanford.

Close to an additional 100 workers are building trades union members, according to Washington Closure.

The remaining 140 nonunion employees could continue to work at Washington Closure until as late as the end of September when the contract ends, with some staying longer to do close-out work on the contract. Washington Closure will continue to assist those looking for another job, but some may already have jobs arranged or plan to retire.

In October 2011, managers at Washington Closure met with each permanent employee to give them estimates of how long they might expect to work for the contractor, with many of the estimates years in the future. Some have worked longer than expected as some additional work was added to the Washington Closure contract and the contract extended for a year through September 2016.

To help workers, Washington Closure created positions called “closure coaches.” A coach was assigned to each worker six months in advance of their expected layoff, or they could meet with a coach sooner if they wished, said Faith Powers, human resources manager.

The workers were offered classes in networking, figuring out their next career steps, writing resumes and interviewing skills. Direct help ranged from writing and reviewing resumes to conducting mock job interviews and offering workers pointers to improve.

Human resources looked for job openings, forwarding them to managers to share with workers or sending off resumes of workers who were interested in the jobs.

We have been preparing for it for a long time.

Faith Powers, Washington Closure Hanford human resources manager

“Our employees have been pretty happy with the process,” Powers said.

Showing workers a strong track record on job placement helped Washington Closure retain workers as long as they were needed. Some workers also were able to advance their careers more quickly than expected and strengthen their resumes as they stepped into better jobs as some workers left early.

Washington Closure workers were not surprised by the WARN notice, which the state of Washington made public Tuesday, Powers said.

“We have been preparing for it for a long time,” she said.

Hanford is being cleaned up under a long-term plan to complete environmental work closest to the river first and then shift spending to cleanup in central Hanford. Under that scenario, overall employment at Hanford could at least hold steady for years to come.

The Obama administration has proposed an overall cut for Hanford spending the next fiscal year, but Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is pushing a Senate proposal that would restore the cut and provide $2.4 billion for fiscal 2017.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533, @HanfordNews

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