The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun

NRC handling of complaints causes problems, workers say

By Joe Walker

Some Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant workers told the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Thursday that its system of handling discrimination complaints is full of problems leading to fear, distrust and plenty of stress.

Plant worker George Labarraque said the system doesn't afford due process and leads to fear, not only by those alleging discrimination, but by managers, supervisors and others who are accused. He said the NRC shifts "the burden of proof to the accused," doesn't allow the accused to confront his accuser, and takes two to three years in many cases to make a ruling.

He also said the system places a much greater burden on workers than their employers. Companies are subject to fines, but workers' reputation in the nuclear industry can be ruined, leaving them jobless, Labarraque said.

"The NRC needs to realize there is a high human cost" in being involved in a discrimination case, he said. "When somebody goes through this, there is a strong feeling of being blackmailed by the process."

Bill Borchardt, director of the NRC Office of Enforcement, said the agency fines employers who identify but don't correct discrimination problems. He responded to a question by speaker Janice Morris, a plant employee who is involved in a discrimination case with plant operator USEC Inc.

Morris said she asked because, without the assurance of civil penalties, her co-workers "would be reluctant" to express concerns to USEC. Some have seen investigations take place without any apparent corrective action, she said.

Morris was among several speakers in a session attended by about 40 plant workers. The meeting, held in Paducah Community College's Crounse Hall, was one of a series the NRC is holding nationwide to establish a task group to improve discrimination procedures. The group will issue a report with its recommendations in June.

Although she would not be specific about her case, Morris said workers' concerns include feeling they have no way of disputing factual discrepancies in investigations. That leads to "a lack of confidence" in the commission, she said, asking the NRC to provide someone to explain the facts.

Morris said workers think it is unfair to have to take vacation time to go to enforcement conferences. She said the NRC should require employers to reimburse employees for travel costs, and there should be a fund established for expense compensation.

Another problem leading to distrust of the system is that employers learn of the details of complaints virtually as soon as the NRC, even though the details are supposed to be confidential, Morris said.