Our Voice: Tank farm workers face far-reaching vote today

We wouldn't presume to tell Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council's tank farm workers how to vote today on the proposed contract with Washington River Protection Solutions.

The workers turned down two earlier proposals from the contractor, most recently Oct. 9. That agreement was approved by HAMTC workers at four other Hanford contractors.

HAMTC is an umbrella organization for about 2,600 members of 15 unions performing work at the nuclear site.

The agreement on the table for tank farm workers now is the same as the proposals they've rejected, but minus a one-time payment of $1,000 per worker offered by Hanford contractors for ratification of an agreement by Oct. 11.

HAMTC workers at the tank farms recently were sent a letter from HAMTC President Dave Molnaa, saying that after "considerable and painful deliberations," the negotiations committee recommends members approve the proposed agreement.

We don't know enough about the offer or the lengthy negotiations to justify taking an editorial position. But we do know the work that 650 union members are doing at Hanford's tank farms is crucial.

Our advice to union members -- and to the company's negotiators -- is simple: Keep in mind throughout the process that your actions could have far-reaching affects on the entire community.

That's not a new idea. It's long been recognized that good labor relations at Hanford benefit not just contractors and their employees, but also the entire Mid-Columbia economy.

The perceived benefits of a stable work force form the foundation for the Hanford Site Stabilization Agreement, which has governed labor relations since 1976, despite ever-changing missions and a near-constant churn of contractors at the nuclear reservation.

The pact set some universal wages and benefits parameters across Hanford in return for the unions' promise not to strike. Tank farm workers only can consider a strike now because their contract lapsed earlier this year, freeing them from the stabilization agreement.

Although authorizing a strike is one of the options on their ballot today, a vote to authorize won't automatically result in a strike. Let's hope a better solution is found.

The stabilization agreement has meant decent wages and working conditions at a site despite a regular turnover in contractors, a fluctuating blue-collar work force and the shifting of jobs from one company to another.

Whenever a new prime contractor arrives at Hanford, it signs onto the agreement, a practice that has prevented major disputes among contractors and unions, leading to relatively peaceful and cooperative relationships.

Because the pact makes labor costs predictable, Congress is more likely to appropriate money for Hanford work and contractors are more likely to compete for Hanford contracts.

Those benefits shouldn't be lightly discarded.