Eugene Astley

OUR HANFORD HISTORY

Eugene Astley

Northwest Public Television and the Hanford History Partnership produced a series of stories from people who lived and worked in the Richland area during the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s operational years. In this episode we speak to Eugene Astley, who started his career as a theoretical physicist before moving into a management position at Hanford; this episode discusses early union disputes.

Full Transcript

[Announcer] Stories from Our Hanford History are produced by Northwest Pubic Broadcasting. A member of the Hanford History Partnership.

In 1960 then I was promoted out to handle all the maintenance and maintenance engineering for the eight reactors. At that time, when they pulled me in and said they wanted to do that, I said, “You know, I’m a physicist. “I really am not a guy that knows much about maintenance.” And they said, “Precisely. “That’s your problem. “We think you have real management capabilities. “You need to learn more about other things.” I ended up with like a thousand pipe fitters and millwrights and machine shops and stuff like that that I was in charge of and so that was my first experience with dealing with the union. One of the problems there, again, was politics. The unions were very strong with the Democrats and so if you tried to get hard-nosed and have a strike, you just, all the top management got a call immediately from the President or the Vice-President, that type of stuff, saying, “We understand what you’re trying to do, “shut down our production. “You can’t do that. “Give them whatever they want.” I can tell you once when I was with Wittell, so I was in there one-on-one with him one day, and at that time we had allowed a strike to happen. The union’s position was they wanted closed shop. I was certainly against a closed shop completely and so was Fred. We’re both republicans. Thought this was the wrong way to go. Didn’t make any sense. And so we were against that and had been holding out for three or four weeks. And I was sitting in the office and the secretary comes in and says, “Fred, you’ll need to take this phone call.” So I said, “You want me to leave?” He said, “No.” He picks it up, listens. “Yeah? Yes I know who you are. “Really? “Thank you.” Bobby Kennedy. “You guys, I understand, are risking “our whole nuclear position in the world “by holding out for a strike “on something as simple as closed shop? He says, “Tell them that they can have a closed shop “and get the strike off the books “and go back to work or I’ll find another contractor.”

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