The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun

275 jobs lost at DOE site 'is it'

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant will lose 165 salaried workers and 110 union workers in the workforce reduction plan that will take effect on July 14.

A spokesman for the United States Enrichment Corp. said employment at its plants in Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, should then stabilize. "There are no more planned layoffs in production," said Elizabeth Stuckle, USEC spokeswoman. "This is it."

On Tuesday, there were 1,732 workers in Paducah and 2,058 in Piketon.

The impact of the layoffs is not as great as anticipated when USEC announced last year that it would eliminate 425 jobs at each plant.

On Monday, USEC said the number had been reduced to 625, with 275 planned in Paducah and 350 in Piketon. The Piketon layoffs will include 185 salaried workers and 165 union workers.

"We were able to reduce the layoffs because of normal attrition, increased project work for other companies and retention of more U.S. Department of Energy work than we anticipated," Stuckle said.

She said there could be some minor changes in the layoff numbers if there are any changes in the work that USEC does for DOE, which operated the plants until a privatization plan took effect in 1993. The DOE work involves management, cleanup and assessment of the DOE waste.

The Paducah plant on Tuesday had 232 employees assigned to DOE work.

Meanwhile, DOE officially announced an enhanced severance package for those who volunteer to be part of the workforce reduction plan.

USEC will accept volunteers from today through May 24. Some volunteers may not be accepted if they are in jobs that are not part of the reduction plan. USEC said the job reduction is needed to cut costs.

The enhanced benefit package includes a lump-sum payment of $12,500 for workers employed after July 1, 1993, and $17,500 for those who began before that date. Workers also could accept severance pay of up to 34 weeks, if it is more than the lump-sum payment.

The package also includes payment of the employer's share of health insurance for one year, 50 percent in the second year and a reduced benefits package the third year.

Other incentives include retraining and relocation assistance.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said DOE's enhanced severance package did not go far enough.

"(Energy) Secretary Richardson has delivered half-a-loaf to the workers of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant," McConnell said.

He said the package should include early retirement incentives. In an April 6 letter to Richardson, McConnell asked that six years of service credit be given to senior workers, which would have made many more eligible for full retirement benefits. He said granting the early retirement would reduce the number of forced layoffs.

Also, he asked that the full employer's share of health insurance premiums be paid for three years, rather than the proposed phaseout plan.

The package did include the lump-sum payments suggested by McConnell for employees with less seniority.

"DOE's plan doesn't provide sufficient health care coverage to the work force which has worked under hazardous conditions as a result of the department's inadequate safety protections," McConnell said.

Terry Freese.cq., a top DOE official in Washington, said the enhanced insurance benefits are similar to what has been offered at other DOE facilities. However, he said there is a chance that full insurance benefits could be extended beyond one year.

"We are going to continue to work on whether to offer enhanced medical benefits in the future," Freese said. "We have a lot of factors to consider, especially equality across the entire DOE complex. We must decide whether to raise the bar on medical benefits."

He said because the current severance package includes a year of full benefits, DOE has time to decide if it wants to make a change.

Meanwhile, Stuckle said USEC's employee retirement fund does not have a sufficient surplus to offer an early retirement package. The cost is estimated at approximately $7 million.