Atomic Workers Raise Concerns to Energy Department Officials

Members of the USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) met with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials at the group’s semi-annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on March 17-19, 2019. Council members discussed their sites’ working conditions and offered suggestions for improvement.

Anne White, assistant secretary of the DOE’s Office of Environmental Management, and Doug Matheney, special advisor to the DOE Secretary in the Office of Fossil Energy, met with the council on March 18 for two hours.

Pictured: USW Atomic Energy Workers Council members convened in Washington, D.C. for their March 17-19, 2019 meeting. Photo by Bill Collins, LU 12-369.

Hanford

Bill Collins, vice president at large/business agent for Local 12-369 at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state, told DOE officials how the contractor for the Plutonium Finishing Plant (PFP) project is accelerating tear-down work, which has led to numerous technical mistakes and the hiring of many under-qualified personnel.

The PFP nuclear chemical operators had 20-30 years of experience handling plutonium and plutonium-contaminated systems. Yet, management moved them out and replaced them with Decontamination and Decommission (D&D) workers who had never worked with fissile material or plutonium-contaminated processes and equipment.

“When you review the safety metrics, you can see how conditions started to diminish up to the final, large-scale contamination incidents and the eventual shutdown of the D&D project in December 2017 when 42 workers were contaminated,” Collins said.

Demolition of the remaining lower-risk portions of the PFP main processing facility and vault restarted the week of April 8, 2019, and are expected to continue through June 2019. demolition of the remaining lower-risk portions of the PFP main processing facility and vault — is expected to continue through June.

Idaho National Laboratory

At Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the DOE is considering a re-bid of the Fluor Idaho, LLC clean-up contract in 2021, even though the clean-up work is slated for completion in 2025.

Local 12-652 at INL urged DOE officials not to re-bid the cleanup agreement because of the complications that occur during any contract transition. Local union officials also emphasized that the cleanup successes at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant and Oak Ridge National Laboratory were possible because the DOE kept in place the main contractor for the remaining few years of the projects.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Local 12-9477 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, N.M., raised concerns about workers’ ability to breathe clean air in the underground transuranic waste disposal site. A new ventilation system is in its earliest stages of installation, but the local said that ventilation problems could be mitigated if DOE had more fans operating.

The atomic locals also called attention to labor-management concerns at their sites, including DOE’s delay in issuing bargaining parameters to contractors at several of the clean-up projects.

“This makes it difficult for the contractors and unions to negotiate timely agreements,” said Jim Key, AEWC president.

The council suggested that DOE make its bargaining parameters available to the union at the same time they are issued to the contractor.

The council also recommended that quarterly meetings be re-started among the USW, the DOE and major site contractors so potential disputes could be resolved.  In addition, the council asked the officials to approach the contractors about allowing USW safety trainers, who operate under DOE-issued grants, to teach their work forces.

White said she would look into releasing the bargaining parameters to the union at the same time as the contractors receive them.

Matheney said he was willing to visit the DOE sites, meet with the locals and their members, and convey their concerns to senior contractor personnel.

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