Department of Energy Drops Language to Protect Collective Bargaining Agreements

mike elkLast year, In These Times detailed how the Obama’s Administration Department of Energy was helping one of its contractors, Honeywell, force concessions on unionized nuclear weapons workers in Kansas City. Now it appears that the Department of Energy for the first time is removing successor contract language that protects unionized workers as a contract shifts from one contractor to another.

Currently, more than 2,400 nuclear weapons workers employed as contractors in both Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Amarillo, Texas, are represented by the AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department. “These two plants have been in existence since the 1940s. Many of the employees are second- and third-generation people who have worked there over the years for different contractors,” says IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill.

However, for the first time in their over 60 year history, the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration plans to consolidate the contracts for the two facilities into one contract which will begin at the end of 2012. And for the first time, the bid language given out to contractors does not include guarantees that require the contractors to rehire the same unionized workers at similar rates.

According to a letter sent by AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department to the Department of Energy, “The NNSA has drafted a final Request for Proposal that does not contain the provisions that would require the successor contractor to employ the existing workforce. The final Request for Proposal also does not contain the provisions that require the successor contractor to maintain the wage rates and fringe benefits that have been provided to all employees in their collective bargaining agreements.”

The Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment about why it would not include these provisions in writing. However, union leaders are worried that not the absence of these provisions could open the door to contractors seeking to union bust at these facilities. AFL-CIO Metal Trade Department President Ron Ault says that he and other union leaders have met with Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss their concerns, but that the Department has failed to listen to them and address their concerns.

“They have [completely changed] 63 years of procurement history. They just threw everything in the trash,” says Ault. “They are claiming to us that they are telling the contractors that they have to offer protections, but they won’t put it in any kind of writing. They are telling us they will chop the hell out of management, but will leave most of our employees alone. It is insane. They are telling us none of our fears will come to realization, but they will give us no protection in writing.”

Ault is baffled as to why a Democratic Department of Energy would fail to give assurances to protect the livelihood of workers at this nuclear weapons plant.

“Our question is why, after 60-some years of practices—why now? Why are we doing something that gives no written protection? These people … what they do is not making McDonald’s Chicken. They are building, remodeling, and refurbishing nuclear weapons.”

Ault feels that this move is yet another sign that the Obama administration’s Department of Energy is not protecting union workers employed by its contractors. As Ault told me in an interview last November, “Nobody can screw you like your friends. We had better labor relations under [Bush appointed-DOE Secretary] Sam Bodman than Chu.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on July 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.