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In 2009, the celebration was on for an oddly-named company known as CH2M Hill. The engineering firm, performing the vast majority of the work at a cleanup project located on the Hanford Nuclear Site in eastern Washington, had just received word of a $1.96 billion reward in stimulus money for their services. The company immediately set about conducting job fairs and hiring 1,300 employees.
Feel good story of the stimulus, right? Wrong. More like a prime example of how stimulus funding was nothing more than a short-term band-aid for a long-term economic wound.
In the past couple of years, CH2M Hill has repeatedly announced layoffs that have met and exceeded the number of hires created by the stimulus, have slashed the pensions of non-union workers, and are currently demanding wage and benefit cuts from their union employees.
In January of 2011, specifically citing the drying up of stimulus funds, the Hanford nuclear site braced for a loss of 1,600 jobs, with 1,350 starting in September for CH2M Hill.
This past August, the company announced another 400 layoffs were imminent, informing members of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council (HAMTC) union of the news.
All told, the Hanford site started 2011 with 12,000 workers, but lost about 2,000 nine months later. An article by the Tri-City Herald featured several interviews with people who had lost their jobs after stimulus funding had dissipated. Most understood that their positions were only temporary - meaning, they recognized that once the stimulus money had been thrown at the project, their jobs would be eliminated.
Why didn't the government?
Not only was it temporary, but in the end was proof positive that the stimulus could not counter the effects of an ailing economy. CH2M Hill lost roughly a net of 700 positions - despite the hiring that came about after their hefty $2 billion reward.
Troubling waters for Hanford workers have yet to recede.
Just a few weeks ago, nearly 1,700 non-union workers at the Hanford site had their pensions cut, with benefits accrued being frozen for 2014, and the multiplier used to calculate pension benefits being reduced from 1.6 percent to 1.2 percent.
Union workers from the aforementioned HAMTC were spared such cuts - or were they?
At the end of November, labor negotiations between the HAMTC and CH2M Hill got testy, with the company proposing significant wage and benefit cuts for their workers.
Dave Molnaa, President of the HAMTC called the proposal "an insult to workers", explaining that "the proposal will mean less money for workers and more money kept by the corporation".
Why would a company that received nearly $2 billion in government funding need to eliminate jobs, eliminate pensions, reduce wages, and find ways to 'keep more money'?
A Wall Street Journal report explains it best, perhaps. In discussing the CH2M Hill/Hanford cleanup projects, Tennille Tracy writes:
“… projects that employ people quickly are often considered ‘low-hanging fruit’ and can fail to set the stage for long-term economic growth.”
A microcosm of the entire stimulus experiment itself.
For sure enough, when the low-hanging fruit began to go bad for companies like CH2M Hill, when the stimulus funding ran out for projects at the Hanford site, all of those jobs—and then some—were eliminated.
We keep hearing about companies that received millions in stimulus funding, but only created a certain amount of jobs at an exorbitant amount. Yet CH2M Hill continues to fly under the radar, receiving billions in funding to actually lose hundreds of jobs.
Such waste. $2 billion in taxpayer money provided for temporary hiring, temporary funding, and a temporary patch on the economy - and you've probably never heard about it.