The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Tuesday, June 20, 2000
Paducah, Kentucky

Workers disapprove of USEC-union talks

By Joe Walker jwalker@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650
Hourly workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and its sister plant near Portsmouth, Ohio, have balked at talks between their international union leaders and USEC Inc. senior managers regarding a deal to help employees after one of the plants closes.

In a letter last week to workers, officers of the plants' atomic workers' union locals accused USEC Chief Executive Officer William "Nick" Timbers of misleading the work force and Congress about requirements to keep both plants open. Amid the company's financial trouble, the USEC board, which meets Wednesday, is expected to decide to close one of the plants.

"We would make a deal with USEC (officials) only if they had something real to offer," the letter said. It explained that much of what Timbers has agreed to do to protect workers already is built into contracts and legislation that allowed USEC to be privatized.

"We are not giving up on our jobs or agreeing that we should allow a plant to close until after we have exhausted every effort to get the Energy Department and Congress to deal with the problem," the letter said.

James "Kip" Phillips, vice president of the Nashville, Tenn.-based Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, said Monday that the discussions with USEC have ceased because of the locals' views.

"There will not be negotiations, an agreement or anything else without the support and ratifications of the locals," Phillips said. "They seem to have no interest in it at all, and that's where it sits."

The letter summarizes a June 7 meeting in Louisville by the local committees with top PACE officials, including Phillips and Boyd Young, president of the 13,200-member union. It says Young had held a series of meetings during the past month with USEC senior managers to negotiate "a partnership" modeled after the Saturn plant agreement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers.

"President Young said that USEC will announce a plant closing after its board of directors' meeting (Wednesday)," the letter said. "He said that USEC will announce which plant will close at that time."

Phillips said the letter "was not entirely accurate" in characterizing the USEC discussions as negotiations.

"There were no negotiations," he said. "It's accurate to say that USEC did approach us about the possibility of coming to an agreement with the union. We did meet with them, and there were discussions as to what they wanted and a lot of things we wanted."

David Fuller, president of the Paducah local, said he wrote the letter, signed by himself and other officers. He said the local disagrees with many of the ideas outlined in the letter.

"We're still trying to come to a consensus on a path forward," Fuller said. "There's absolutely no doubt that the international and the local have the best interests of the membership at heart."

According to the letter, the proposed agreement:

 Requires union leadership to start immediately negotiating a closure agreement at the plant that will be shut down. The deal would include enhanced severance, and USEC expects workers to "waive their rights to sue" if they accept those perks.

 Gives PACE workers hiring preference and union recognition for cleaning up and shutting down facilities at the plants if the Energy Department awards USEC that work.

 Guarantees USEC will offer hiring some of the displaced workers at a gas centrifuge plant the firm is considering building, probably at Portsmouth. The offer includes a successorship agreement with PACE.

 Says USEC will negotiate a "minimum staffing level" and extend the collective bargaining agreement at the plant that remains open. For the plant to be closed, there will be no more job cuts during the time that elapses until closure.

The letter concludes that USEC has broken promises to the government to keep the plants running and the cleanup work already is contained in "an especially solid" collective bargaining agreement.