The Paducah Sun

Clinton administration, Congress continuing to betray plant workers

EDITOR: The Clinton administration and Congress, over the objections of economists, national security experts, uranium mining companies and the workforce, privatized USEC with a flourish of promises about how USEC would be viable, develop AVLIS, keep both enrichment plants open until 2004, and protect national security.

While that "reinventing government" decision made millionaires out of the already wealthy, it has already cost 1,450 workers their jobs a mere 19 months after privatization. To assuage the demands of Wall Street, the closure of one gaseous diffusion plant is now likely, AVLIS is dead and a $325 million national security bailout has already been paid out.

While the workforce asks for government intervention, the administration is immobilized despite evident breach of congressional mandates. At this point, the "veterans of the Cold War" whom Secretary Richardson so earnestly praised are being betrayed by the same administration officials who can't or won't comply with congressional mandates to assure viability, continued operation of the gaseous diffusion plants, and the maintenance of a reliable and economical domestic supply of enrichment services.

The workforce was told by White House officials not to worry about layoffs. They said they were not about handing out "gold watches," rather they had a "construct" to replace those lost jobs with new, high-wage jobs. The only project that could achieve this result was the construction of two depleted uranium hexafluoride conversion plants to treat uranium wastes. The law was passed, the funds were fenced, but all the high administration officials can produce is lame excuses about why the project can't move forward. The promises for even the 200 replacement jobs these plants would provide has been betrayed in bureaucratic obfuscation.

Meanwhile, as USEC announced its second round of 850 layoffs, the administration promised 600 replacement jobs doing environmental work, but all anyone can fathom at this point is 125 jobs or so. What appeared to be statements intended to assuage public and worker anxiety naturally raised expectations, but as the facts come out, these promises are seen as hollow and our expectations have been betrayed.

The layoffs are now imminent, and even the funds for the previously demeaned "gold watches" cannot be found. High administration officials cannot seem to come up with the funds for severance payments and health insurance. On Monday night, April 3, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott refused to bring the supplemental appropriations bill that would have provided these funds to the floor, thus killing the bill.

Workers at Paducah and Portsmouth were betrayed by their government when they were knowingly put in poisonous working conditions without their knowledge or consent. An Atomic Energy Commission memo says 300 workers should be tested for neptunium uptake, but back in the 1960s the contractor objected because the union might use it to demand hazardous duty pay. The administration today says the government will pay compensation to those who are ill. But when their long-awaited proposal finally hits the street, we fear the administration's "promise to pay" will be conditioned on victims navigating a series of trip-wires and insurmountable requirements for proof.

We remain eternally hopeful that we have simply misperceived the facts, even though our ability to correctly perceive the facts and their implications has, to this point, been precisely correct. Approximately five years ago I was quoted in this paper regarding the privatization of USEC, saying there was a train wreck in the future being set up by the terms of privatization. Job losses, AVLIS cancellation, and talk of plant closures are the first tragic sounds of that train wreck.



Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers