Nuclear Times: Issue 9 - June 2016

Atomic Council Meets with Department of Energy Officials to Resolve Labor Issues Before New Administration Takes Over

Members of the USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) met with Department of Energy (DOE) officials in Washington, D.C., during their semi-annual meeting in March to address issues with the contractors and agency before the next presidential administration arrives next year with new DOE appointees.

Although David Foster and Natasha Campbell, senior advisors to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, help the union tremendously in making progress on issues with DOE site contractors and agency management and career employees, some problems continue to linger.

DOE contractors continue to subcontract USW work even though it may cost extra taxpayer money, and congressional appropriations for nuclear cleanup work get smaller.

Cutbacks across the nuclear complex are becoming the norm with contractors pointing to the agency and the DOE claiming budget constraints.

“Workers always seem to pay the price,” said USW International Vice President Carol Landry. “Contractors say the bargaining parameters they propose for wages, benefits and working conditions return sliced and diced.

“We need to ask the DOE if this cost-cutting is something we’ll see across the complex and if so, we will need to get more militant. This isn’t justifiable with all the waste by contractors,” she said.

Best Practices

Mari-Jo Campagnone, director of the DOE Office of Outreach and Analysis, discussed the agency’s Best Practices report, a study of effective solutions to difficult problems at DOE sites.

Landry and two AEWC officers then introduced Campagnone to the reality of working in the DOE complex.

“We feel we are not appreciated and that all we are is a cost to DOE and the contractors,” Landry said. “DOE personnel question where we fit in and the contractors treat us terribly.

“Work would not get done without our members, their skills and their historical knowledge of the sites. The challenge will be to ensure these best practices are implemented,” she said.

AEWC President Jim Key, vice president of USW Local 550 at the former Paducah, Ky., gaseous diffusion plant, remarked that confrontation with the union costs the DOE money, and said contractors arrive knowing little about the site they are to manage.

“We need all parties to make this work. You don’t want to lose peoples’ knowledge, and unions are there to guarantee a base level of training and skill. But that’s not always clear to some folks,” Campagnone said.

Managers Think Differently

“Management does not think this way,” countered AEWC Vice President Herman Potter, who is president of USW Local 689 at the former Piketon, Ohio, gaseous diffusion site.

Potter said extreme fitness for duty requirements are pushing out of the plant knowledgeable, older workers. He said one 30-year employee who is heavyset is being pushed out of the plant because he “can’t escape fast enough” if there is an emergency.

“If anyone seems spacey, the person gets pushed off work. No one reports anything because they will be out of work for a while.

“We need an investigation on how fitness for duty is implemented—not what is the DOE secretary’s intent,” Potter added.

Campagnone said that without good DOE site leaders there are problems, and that not much comes out of working at cross purposes with the workforce.

Fear of Retaliation

Key suggested to Dr. Monica Regalbuto, DOE assistant secretary for Environmental Management (EM), that the agency’s Office of Environment, Health, Safety & Security assign its own representatives to each site with reporting authority back to the Washington, D.C. office.

He said the local union currently goes to the contractor site representatives at the Paducah deactivation project if there is a safety issue, but this becomes problematic if a worker fears retaliation as a result of his or her decision to stop work because of a safety problem.

Key said contractor Fluor Federal Services Inc. (Fluor) is forcing its power operators to work alone and that the union thinks this is a violation because it believes two workers are required since high voltages are involved.

Regalbuto said she would follow up on what Key described. He also asked what happened to the $4.6 billion DOE nuclear site cleanup fund and the potential to reclaim radioactive waste metal and turn it into products.

Regarding the cleanup fund, she said DOE proposes that the power utilities pay for the cleanup of toxic nuclear sites. The utility industry says it already paid its fair share over the years.

As for recycling radioactive waste metal, Regalbuto said there is much pushback due to old opposition to the proposal. When the DOE proposed in 1998 to recycle the metal, the public and the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union opposed it.

Contractor Transitions

The AEWC discussed with J.E. “Jack” Surash the transition to new contractors and how the union can be more involved in the DOE’s contractor bidding process.

Surash is the deputy assistant secretary for DOE’s Acquisition & Project Management Office and said he would travel to Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to ensure local DOE management and the new contractor, Fluor Corp., are focused on the transition.

The agency awarded the company a five-year, $1.4 billion cleanup contract. Fluor takes over the existing cleanup contracts at the site, held by Idaho Treatment Group and CH2M-WG Idaho, also known as CWI.

Surash suggested the USW attend the briefing and site tour for potential contractors before a decision is made. He said DOE proposals will no longer be put out piecemeal. Instead, a complete Request for Proposal (RFP), including the full Section H that details the labor and health and safety provisions for the project, will be posted to the public.

Problems occurred in the past when the USW was not informed of the Section H provisions until late in the process, causing difficulties when the local union started bargaining with the new contractor.

Atomic Council Confronts Difficult Bargaining Climate

Until 2009, USW atomic workers did not have to worry about their jobs or if their wages, benefits and working conditions would change when the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a contract at their site to a new contractor. The only item that changed was the name of the contractor on their paycheck.

Since then, the USW has fought nonstop to keep pensions and retiree health care benefits for existing workers. These benefits are crucial because nuclear workers clean up atomic sites contaminated with radioactive chemical elements like plutonium and a stew of other toxic chemicals.

Career DOE employees and contractors have sometimes placed roadblocks during contract talks for existing bargaining units and newly organized ones.

When a new contractor arrived, there was sometimes an issue of recognizing the USW as the bargaining agent. Also, instead of the labor agreement transferring to the new employer, the local union had to renegotiate the contract.

No Contract Carryover

David Foster, a senior advisor to Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz, told the USW’s Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) at its semiannual meeting in March 2016 that successor clauses in the traditional format are no longer enforceable, according to DOE lawyers.

Julie Ford, the attorney to the AEWC, said DOE does not detail its parameters for wages, benefits and working conditions that it gives to contractors, so when a contractor wants to negotiate cutbacks in an agreement, it goes to the DOE site manager.

But during labor negotiations contractors will point to the DOE’s parameters as the reason for cutbacks and not offering benefits like a defined benefit pension (DBP) and retiree health care.

In response, the DOE says it does not get involved in contract bargaining and that the contractor can offer what it wants out of the pot of money DOE gives the company.

Foster said the contractor is not mandated to come up to the level of the DOE’s bargaining parameters for wages, benefits and other work-related items.

Each nuclear cleanup site has its own budget, and a maximum of $5 million can be transferred site to site without going to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Congress. That matters because it limits the money available for workers’ wages and benefits.

Union Evaluation Needed

USW International Vice President Carol Landry said at the AEWC meeting that the union should be part of DOE’s evaluation of contractors.

J.E. “Jack” Surash, deputy assistant secretary for DOE’s Office of Acquisition & Project Management, told the council that the union should contact the site manager.

USW’s persistence to get the DOE and contractors in the same room to identify the source  of the benefits cutbacks is paying off.

Foster arranged for quarterly meetings this year between high-level Fluor Corp. officials, DOE and the USW to cover how the contractor is administering its labor agreements at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the former Portsmouth, Ohio, gaseous diffusion plant and the former Paducah, Ky., gaseous diffusion plant. In February DOE awarded Fluor a five-year, $1.4 billion cleanup contract at INL.

What it Takes to Get a Decent Contract

Several years ago, the USW pressured DOE Secretary Moniz to provide labor liaisons who could help the union navigate the DOE maze, search for answers and help resolve the union’s issues with the agency and the contractors.

Moniz appointed David Foster, a former USWA District 11 director and executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, and Natasha Campbell, a member of the DOE’s headquarters labor relations department, to be senior advisors to him and help the unions resolve the labor issues.

Foster and Campbell have assisted the USW in resolving some longstanding labor issues that are finally being settled in favor of workers.

Their task has not been easy because the DOE complex is an interwoven web of career employees, former career employees who switched to employment with the contractors, contractor employees who go to work for the agency and presidential appointees. They have had to peel through the DOE’s bureaucratic layers to discover who made decisions affecting USW-represented workers and why.

Local 550 Members Overcome Bargaining Challenges to Win Labor Agreements with Energy Department Contractors at Paducah

Members of Local 550 at the former Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant ratified labor agreements with two contractors at the end of May 2016 that included retroactive wage increases and other improvements.

Negotiations with Fluor Federal Services (Fluor) took 19 months.  Local 550 President Donna Steele, Vice President Jim Key, and the Local 550 negotiating committee started the process in October 2014 when the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded Fluor the DUF6 contract for deactivation of the gaseous diffusion process equipment.

The bargaining was immediately challenging because Fluor claimed the cleanup job was new work and set its own terms and conditions, starting with an average $4/hour pay cut from what the workers were earning when the U.S. Enrichment Corp. (USEC) employed them previously.

USEC used to operate the facility and turned it over to the federal government when it went bankrupt and emerged from Chapter 11 restructuring as Centrus Energy Corp. 

Cutbacks

At the March Atomic Energy Workers Council (AEWC) meeting, Key reported limited progress in bargaining. Fluor proposed a $1/hour wage increase, and also wanted an elimination of premium pay, forced vacation time for sick and funeral leaves, an end to short-term disability, and higher out-of-pocket health care expenses for workers.

“Without USW International Vice President Carol Landry’s guidance, DOE Senior Advisors David Foster and Natasha Campbell’s assistance in navigating the internal politics of the DOE Civil Service employees, and the AEWC’s continued pressure and trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with top DOE headquarters officials, our local would not have been able to settle our labor agreements,” Key said.

Worker Gains

By the end of May, Local 550 members ratified a 14-month labor agreement that contained wage increases, retroactive back pay, shift premiums, shift turnover pay, overtime premium pay, call-in pay, reporting pay, jury duty pay, and voting time pay. Overtime distribution language also improved.

In addition, workers no longer had to use vacation time for funeral leave. The local also achieved positive revisions in military leave, union business leave for local union leaders to handle activities like grievances, arbitrations and contract negotiations, and improved paid time off accrual for those with 20 or more years of continuous service.

There are improved time limits for reprimands and suspensions being removed from a worker’s record.  The contractor will also pay $500 to each selected and qualified emergency support (E-Support) member each January for E-Support activities to be performed for the remainder of the calendar year.

Major Health & Safety Gains

The USW and Fluor agreed to extend to all the company’s employees the authority to suspend work they suspect or is shown to place workers, the public, or the environment at risk without fear of reprisal.

Fluor agreed with the USW that health and safety is of the highest priority and agreed to partner with the union in this area. A joint labor-management safety advisory committee is being formed to allow for worker participation.

Local 550 will choose three of the six committee members, and the group will identify and resolve health and safety issues pertaining to Fluor on the Deactivation Project. The members will also make recommendations for improvements in the safety and accident prevention program.

The committee can also request that Fluor allow the members to visit the scene of any disabling or other serious accident so they may have a better understanding of its cause. The contractor will also arrange for a union committee member to see firsthand the conditions on the project that an employee claims to be unsafe and/or detrimental to health.

If there is an accident involving a bargaining unit worker, the local union will designate as its representative a bargaining unit employee who normally works in the area, or another representative, in which the accident occurred.

Fluor will pay for one full-time USW safety and health representative, and a USW official will submit the name of the person to the contractor’s program manager. This representative will actively participate in health and safety incident investigations and safety assessments, implement corrective actions, and communicate with USW members on safety matters such as lessons learned, safety requirements, and injury and event information.

Work Done Under Fluor Contract

Fluor deactivation workers will introduce a chemical to remove any residual uranium in the process piping & equipment, thereby making a safer system for future decontamination and decommissioning.

The USW bargaining unit contains 282 workers who are electricians, mechanics, instrument technicians, heavy equipment operators, truck drivers, firefighters, operators, and general laborers. 

LSRS Contract

Local 550 also negotiated a two-year labor agreement with Fluor’s subcontractor Lata Sharp Remediation Services (LSRS) that the membership ratified at the end of May.  It included a retroactive 2.5 percent wage increase for all rate groups.

Workers in all classifications will receive a 3.5 percent retroactive wage increase on July 27, 2015, and another 3.5% in July 2016. Another improvement included a 25-cent-per-hour premium for truck drivers who have a commercial driver’s license, and a 25-cent-per-hour premium will be paid to all radiological control technicians who have a certification from the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists.

Upcoming Negotiations

The contract extension with BWXT Conversion Services, LLC, expires at the end of 2016. BWXT converts depleted uranium hexafluoride, or DUF6, into a stable, solid crystal form that can be used for other purposes, stored or safely disposed of, while also separating and removing hydrogen fluoride from the depleted uranium, and re-containerizing for sale on the open market.

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