The Hanford Concerns Council (HCC) improves upon the consensus and council concepts previously used at the Hanford site by the Hanford Joint Council for Resolving Employee Concerns, which received national recognition for its efforts. Adding features and strengths that build on an already successful model, the Hanford Concerns Council uses concepts and operational guidelines recommended initially in a University of Washington study. The original University of Washington study was undertaken at the request of the Washington State Department of Ecology, and became the basis for a working system then finalized by senior personnel from the Department or Ecology, US Department of Energy, the Government Accountability Project, Heart of America Northwest, and the Westinghouse Hanford Company, assisted by nationally known mediator Gerald Cormick.

As Department of Ecology Director and later as Attorney General, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, provided encouragement for the HJC, seeing it as a forum for bringing safety issues to the table to be fairly evaluated and resolved. Following a series of meetings with Hanford whistleblowers and a review of the planned process, then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O‘Leary personally advocated the formation of the HJC, and announced its formation. O‘Leary referred to the Council as “a whistleblower ‘safe house‘.”

During its eight years of operation from 1994 to 2002, the HJC was able to resolve a substantial number of cases of the type that usually led to lengthy court battles and unsatisfying outcomes for all parties involved. Westinghouse Hanford Company was the original contractor member and worked successfully to establish the precedent of corporate response to the charter agreement to “presumptively implement” any consensus recommendation of the Council. Fluor Daniel succeeded Westinghouse on site in 1997 and, with a group of other partner and subcontractor companies, participated in the Council arrangements after a brief interruption.

The Council approach historically saved time and financial resources and was able to resolve many underlying safety concerns as part of the process. The average cost of resolving a case handled through the Council’s mediation process was well below 10% of the costs of resolving similar complex cases through traditional channels. Under traditional methods, costs to resolve cases include attorney fees, consultation by outside experts, and documentation. However, they usually fail to address the original safety or work environment issues; the employee often loses his or her job, and the site loses the investment in that person.

Under the Council system, in addition to substantial time and cost savings, people normally keep their jobs and continue to contribute, and numerous safety practices are reformed or better implemented as a result of Council actions.

Dozens of employees, who believed their jobs were in jeopardy for raising concerns have been retained or returned to employment and productive working relationships, and many managers and supervisors helped to avoid or resolve potentially career threatening situations. A few employees left the site following their cases, most to new employment opportunities, rather than into uncertainty, as had often been the case with whistleblowers prior to the Joint Council’s inception. In a small handful of cases, employees remained on the job, but some continuing tensions remained. By managing the return to work, and sometimes through a new position assignment, a majority of employees returned to a productive relationship with the employer.

Direct access to senior company officials and the ability to obtain professional opinions from offsite technical and medical experts allowed for resolutions that were both timely and mutually agreeable. Resources were better spent on job preservation and resolving safety issues as a result of the Council approach.

The previous HJC membership consisted of two neutral members in addition to the neutral chair, usually two contractor members, two nuclear safety advocacy members, and one member who had been a whistleblower. The new council’s membership is similar, but has additional members to aid timeliness in resolving cases. By meeting nearly every month, and through working as a team on cases, the members, who are pledged to confidentiality and problem solving, develop knowledge of the site, familiarity with case issues, and trust that allows them to collectively examine the facts and reach a consensus conclusion on how to resolve the issues in each unique situation.

The Hanford Joint Council never failed to reach a consensus recommendation, despite the difficulty in each situation. Bringing to the table the perspectives of the employee and the company, as well as a neutral perspective, allows members to see all sides of the situation without the negative history and polarization that makes some cases at a nuclear site so difficult to resolve. Using their knowledge, experience, and the independent authority granted to members of the Council, even the most complex issues can be resolved.

After Fluor Daniel Hanford Corporation declared that it would henceforth handle all safety concerns internally and the original Hanford Joint Council ceased its operations, a series of highly visible and hard-to-resolve employee concerns emerged. Those events led Edward Aromi, President of CH2M HILL Hanford Group and Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project to begin discussions on developing a new process to handle such concerns. The Office of River Protection, led by its Manager Roy Schepens encouraged this dialogue and in the spring of 2005, the new Council was ready to accept cases.

Aromi, a former Hanford Joint Council member said the HJC allowed for “amazing results in the personal lives of individuals, demonstrating corporate values and assuring the safe execution of the US Department of Energy‘s mission at Hanford.” The new Hanford Concerns Council was formed in the Spring of 2005, and will continue to improve upon the tradition of providing an independent venue for resolving safety issues in the Hanford workplace.

Working with the Council, CH2M HILL helped develop additional innovations in problem solving over workplace issues that have been beneficial to both safety and to resolving misunderstandings or conflicts with employees. With the change of contractors in October 2008, CH2M HILL will transition out of the Tank Farms, but discussions are underway to try and preserve these gains and continue to make the Council services available to Tank Farm employees.

Late in 2007, Washington Closure Hanford expressed the company’s interest in learning more about the Council and possibly becoming a participant company. After a period of mutual assessment by the Council and the company and with encouragement from Dave Brockman, Department of Energy Richland Operations Office Manager, an agreement was reached that made the Council’s services available to WCH employees and employees of most of its subcontractors.

 

 

 

"The government has saved millions of dollars and thousands of hours of management, employee, and oversight time that could be devoted to clean-up work. The Council has ensured accountability for the site and dignity for workers that will be difficult to duplicate... Further, the council has given those of us in state government the comfort that no issues would be overlooked if an employee had the courage to come forward and that no individual would be discriminated against because they raised a concern..."
- Christine Gregoire, Governor

“The Joint Council was the best of the best and a win-win for me and the company. Safety Issues were addressed, understood and changes were made to resolve the safety issues.”
- Employee

“For me the Council members were professional, courteous, understanding and caring. This was true for both the council members representing me and the council member representing the company.”
- Employee

“The company representatives that worked with me and the other council members were open, honest and wanted to resolve the safety issues as much as I did.”
- Employee


 

 

Hanford Concerns Council  
3311 West Clearwater Ave., Suite D200
Kennewick, WA 99336

509-783-5695   info@hanfordconcernscouncil.org