The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, July 17, 2001

PACE seeks pact for big group, too
Good increases were just gained for about 105 USEC workers, but it's also renewal time for 1,500 others.

By Joe Walker

Having just secured better agreements for more than 100 environmental workers, union negotiators at the U.S. Enrichment Corp. plant have set their sights on improvements to a larger contract expiring July 31.

On Saturday, three groups of workers from Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) Workers Union Local 5-550 approved new, four-year contracts with cleanup firms Bechtel Jacobs, Swift and Staley, and Weskem.

The agreements cover about 105 employees and provide pay increases of 4 percent in the first and second years, 3.8 percent in the third year and 3.5 percent in the fourth, said David Fuller, president of the local. There were "substantial" pension and benefit increases, he said.

The union also represents about half the USEC plant's 1,500 workers in a contract up for renewal in two weeks. Fuller said bargainers have met six or seven times with company officials in recent weeks.

"It's still in the preliminary stages, but we're hopeful it will go well," he said. "It's just a little too early to tell yet."

Fuller said the union expects its members to be duly compensated for a long string of demanding tasks. Since the old contract was signed five years ago, employees "have gone above and beyond the call of duty" to make the plant a competitive, stand-alone facility, he said.

Following large layoffs during the last two years at its Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, plants, USEC closed the Ohio plant in June, leaving Paducah as the only uranium enrichment facility in the nation. Fuller said union workers were heavily involved in an upgrade allowing the Paducah plant to produce reactor-grade uranium, rather than having to ship it to Ohio for more enrichment.

"They've done everything that's been asked of them and have provided success for the plant," he said. "At this point, the employees have needs and they're looking at the company they've performed for to show its appreciation."

Fuller said "concessions" on behalf of labor are unacceptable. He declined to elaborate or discuss specific contract issues.

"It would be too early to assume there's a problem," Fuller said, but "when concessions are placed on the table for the union, especially in view of the things I've just mentioned, then that's obviously going to be a pill that can't be swallowed."

USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said she did not know what Fuller meant by concessions. "The only thing I can say is the contract is scheduled to be renewed this summer, and we're working closely with the union to that end."

Also set to expire July 31, the three environmental cleanup contracts were ratified at the PACE union hall on Cairo Road. Fuller said the individual work groups were pleased with the standard offer from the three firms.

"I think it marks a really good relationship we've had with Bechtel Jacobs (lead contractor) out there on the cleanup side of the house," he said. "We've worked hard to have a good relationship with them."