The Paducah Sun

February 5, 2000

Doubts raised on DOE layoff funds

By Joe Walker
Sun Business Editor

Union officials reacted skeptically to Friday's release of a draft Department of Energy plan to help 850 workers who will be laid off by summer at uranium enrichment plants here and near Portsmouth, Ohio.

Richard Miller, Washington-based policy analyst for the plants' atomic workers' union, said he spoke with officials in the DOE Office of Worker and Community Transition and came away worried that the plan is underfunded and overstates the number of jobs that DOE programs can create.

He said the officials acknowledged there is no funding for enhanced severance and the money hasn't been requested in the Clinton administration's supplemental budget. They were "noncommittal" about asking for the money, he said.

"Because they haven't mapped it out well enough, you have to wonder why they're rushing to put it out on the street," Miller said. "There's not enough detail, and you just hope this isn't grandstanding."

USEC Inc., which runs the plants, announced Thursday that 425 jobs will be eliminated starting July 1 at each plant as part of drastic cost cutting. USEC previously cut nearly 500 jobs at the plants.

Under an agreement between USEC and DOE - and funded by $20 million as part of USEC's privatization - enhanced benefits were paid to severed workers, the plan says. Those benefits averaged $29,000 per worker, more than double the same benefits at other DOE plants.

The plan says projected funding is insufficient to continue that program, which would require about $25,000 more per worker. There may be enough current and requested funds to provide a lump-sum cash benefit rather than enhanced benefits, the plan says.

USEC may consider early retirement for some workers, depending on many factors including skills mixes and the number of probable applicants, the plan says.

The plan provides these estimates of new jobs at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant to help offset layoffs:

--20 to 45 jobs to clean up and remove "drum mountain," a contaminated pile of rusted, hazardous waste drums that DOE has promised to get rid of this year.

--Paducah's share of 150 or more jobs at both plants as a result of "substantial new funding" for environmental, waste management and other work announced by Energy Secretary Bill Richardson last week. The plan does not give a plant-by-plant breakdown, but says that by 2001, the money could lead to 450 new jobs at both plants. Richardson said he will ask Congress for an additional $11.3 million for each plant this fiscal year.

--325 jobs over during the next three years through efforts of the Paducah Area Community Reuse Organization (PACRO).

Last July, DOE approved a $6 million grant to help PACRO find ways to offset job losses at the plant through small-business development and a variety of other measures. The group is expected to request $8 million this year and $6 million next year to continue its work, including existing industry programs and added costs to develop industrial parks. Approval is contingent on the availability of DOE funds.

DOE is preparing a request for proposals to hire a company to maintain about 57,000 cylinders - roughly 37,000 at Paducah - of depleted uranium hexafluoride from enrichment. The request will include the design, construction, operation and ultimate shutdown of facilities at the Paducah and Portsmouth plants to convert the hazardous material into something safer for potential sale.

The plan says USEC employees already doing cylinder work will transfer to Bechtel Jacobs, DOE's lead environmental contractor, or subcontractors once a labor agreement is reached. Those who lose jobs in the new layoffs and hired by the Bechtel Jacobs work group will be "at substantially equivalent pay and benefits" with continued company service credit and the Multiple-Employer Pension Plan.

USEC and the plants' atomic workers' union have reached agreements to allow displaced USEC workers who get jobs with the Bechtel Jacobs group, but are laid off later, to return to USEC employment using "bump back" seniority rights.

USEC previously cut 192 jobs at the Paducah plant through voluntary layoffs and is reviewing several more applications, the plan says. About 90 percent of those chose a lump sum cash benefit, and the average severance benefit is more than $40,000 - "substantially more" than at other DOE plants.

During the initial cuts, 474 workers were laid off voluntarily at both plants, and 28 more applications are under review. The breakdown included 308 salaried and 164 hourly workers.

The plan says USEC is responsible for providing severance to laid-off employees under its human resources and collective bargaining agreements, and DOE will fund "any enhancements" to those benefits.

Other plan highlights:

--Salaried employees are selected for involuntary cuts based on past performance, relevant education and training, possession of critical skills, how well skills transfer, and company service. For hourly employees, those with least seniority are laid off from each affected classification.

--Employees who are laid off involuntarily receive severance pay based on company service. The range of severance pay at Paducah - based on five to 30 years' service - is three to 26 weeks' pay for union workers and 4.3 to 30.4 weeks' pay for salaried workers. Generally, those with at least five years' service are vested for pension. All have opportunities to convert life, health and dental insurance.

--DOE pays the cost for those laid-off workers who are ineligible for other employers' group health plans or Medicare, and who can't find DOE-related jobs.

--The department anticipates providing funds to train displaced workers for skills needed to acquire DOE-related jobs or other jobs, and provide career transition and outplacement help. To avoid involuntary job cuts, the department may provide opportunities for workers to voluntarily leave jobs with earned severance.

Copies of the draft plan are available at the DOE Environmental Information Center at Kevil and the Paducah Public Library. They can also can be viewed via the Internet on the DOE Office of Worker Transition home page at http://www.wct.doe.gov/ under the section, "What's New."

Comments can be transmitted to the Paducah DOE Site Office at jacksonjd@oro.doe.gov or to the Office of Worker and Community Transition at terence.freese@hq.doe.gov.