Some Hanford contractors and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory employees should be getting larger paychecks than expected this year, despite a declared pay freeze.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced in December that he was freezing the salaries and bonus pool increases for 75,000 federal contractor employees, including those at Hanford and PNNL.
The freeze was intended to be in line with a two-year pay freeze for workers employed directly by the federal government, including workers at the Department of Energy's Hanford Office of River Protection and Richland Operations Office.
However, federal employees continue to get "step" increases, which are described by DOE as percentage increases on a predetermined schedule tied to increased experience for employees with good performance.
DOE said last week that Chu would allow the same standard to be applied to DOE contractor employees.
Money equal to 1.5 percent of the total payroll for each facility would be available for the pay increases. The money would be retroactive to Jan. 1, the start of the pay freeze, according to DOE.
"Each individual site is formulating plans about how to implement" the new funding, DOE spokesman Tom Reynolds, in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.
DOE Hanford officials were talking with DOE officials in Washington, D.C., last week about how they would implement the new direction, said DOE Hanford spokesman Geoff Tyree. They will be talking with contractors in the next few days, he said.
An estimated 12,000 workers are employed on projects related to environmental cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation. But the pay freeze did not include thousands of workers, including those at Hanford's vitrification plant, those working for subcontractors and those covered by a collective bargaining agreement.
At PNNL, which employs about 4,500 people in Richland, the money will be used to make some targeted salary adjustments, such as bringing some staff salaries in line with what is common in the marketplace for a particular field, said PNNL spokesman Greg Koller.
The money cannot be used for merit raises or cost of living increases, he said.
Although some contractor workers now will see some relief from the pay freeze, it remains in effect for two years.
"As our nation continues to recover from these challenging economic times, and we work to address the massive deficits we inherited, I am asking our contractor staff, who represent the best and brightest in their fields, to join the federal work force in playing a part," Chu wrote in a memo to employees in December.
At Hanford, savings from the pay freeze are planned to be used for additional environmental cleanup work.