MINDING THE STORE

THEY DON'T MAKE BOMBS ANYMORE AT ROCKY FLATS. BUT THE PLANT IS AS DANGEROUS AS EVER.

Rocky Flats is undergoing a dramatic downsizing, a reflection of its new peacetime mission. The plant's employee population should drop from about 7,300 workers presently to around 5,000 over the next several years. And plant figures show that under EG&G, salaried positions have increased from around 2,800 to over 4,500--while union jobs have fallen from 2,500 to 1,800.

Many steelworkers are convinced the new crop of managers resent the blue-collar workers' familiarity with Rocky Flats and its history. The union contends that that may be one reason EG&G is subcontracting out large amounts of work. Just as damaging to hourly workers, says Wise, is the company's practice of shifting union members from their present positions to nonunion salaried jobs.

EG&G's Mann says the growth of salaried positions and the accompanying slide in union jobs is a natural consequence of the plant's new priorities. Large numbers of salaried professionals are required to do tasks such as project planning and site investigative work, he says. But blue-collar workers will still be needed for the physical labor involved in decontamination and decommissioning work, the bulk of which is yet to come, Mann adds.

If DOE and EG&G continue their current contracting trends, however, many of those blue-collar jobs will go to subcontracted laborers. For primarily economic reasons, the government is moving away from its policy of using a single company with a large unionized work force to undertake the cleanup of facilities such as Rocky Flats. Instead, a number of companies, each specializing in a particular kind of work, will be brought in, Silverman suggests. That policy is still evolving, he says, at Rocky Flats, where the management contract with EG&G expires at the end of 1995. But it's likely that subcontractors will have to have smaller, nonunionized staffs to successfully compete for DOE contracts.

"I don't believe anything we're doing is intended to imply that we're trying to eliminate a union from the site," Silverman says. "We have an obligation, though, to spend our money more cost-effectively than we have been. If we can break up the contract and break up the work to be done at the site into smaller pieces without the kind of overhead that goes with a single contractor, then we have an obligation to look at that."

Harry Mann emphatically denies that EG&G has any desire to oust the union. "They're going to be here until the last building is done because they're the people who understand what the work requirements are and how to do it," he insists.

Were the union to go at Rocky Flats, says Wise, many of the plant's built-in safety features would go with it. Gone would be the steelworkers' labor agreement (now under negotiation and, for all intents and purposes, in limbo), which allows workers to refuse work they consider unsafe. Gone too would be shop stewards, grievance committees and the entire organized structure that now allows workers to take issue with management over discipline and safety issues.

Currently, says Wise, trainers at Rocky Flats tell workers to challenge supervisors when safety procedures are being bypassed or work is otherwise unsafe. But those who do so, he says, have been threatened with insubordination, a charge that is grounds for firing.

About eighteen months ago, says Wise, radiological control technician Steve Cox took issue with supervisors conducting a criticality incident evacuation drill in a building in the 700 complex. Cox contended that all personnel should leave the building during the drill, as required by safety procedures. Supervisors wanted to exempt those in a break room from the exercise. When Cox insisted the drill be halted until they complied with procedures, the supervisors allegedly accused him of insubordination, suspended him without pay for five days and had him escorted from the plant site.

EG&G's Harry Mann concedes that workers have on occasion been disciplined or escorted off the site for refusing to do work they consider unsafe. "But we've trained our supervisors to understand that the union workers have a right to identify safety issues," he says. "We want them to have that right, if they think they're being put in an unsafe position, to stop the work."

A possible precursor of what lies in store for union workers at Rocky Flats may be found in recent developments at the Mound Plant in Ohio. A cleanup of radioactively contaminated buildings and ground has been going on at the Mound Plant since the 1970s. In 1988 EG&G took over management of the facility from Monsanto; soon after, labor relations deteriorated to the point that a strike occurred.

"EG&G has always subbed out a lot of work at Mound," says Jim Turner, president of the Miamisburg chapter of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers. The OCAW tried without success to prevent the company from contracting away work previously done by the union. As subcontracting increased, union membership declined. In the last four years, union ranks have been reduced by 45 percent, Turner says.

"The contractors they bring in here are not qualified to do the work," adds James Jefferies, a regional OCAW official based in Ohio. "They don't know the procedures. A lot of the time they don't know what [hazardous wastes] they're working with. They don't adhere to the safety rules and regulations as much as our people do."

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