Pensions were split after privatization in 1992. Oak Ridge retirees, under DOE, saw benefits rise up to 23 percent; USEC retirees have seen none.
By Bill Bartleman firstname.lastname@example.org
Most of them worked for, and retired from, Union Carbide Corp. or Martin Marietta and its successors, who operated the plant for the federal government for more than 40 years.
However, the retirees are no longer included in the pension plan that they paid into during their careers. Instead, they are in a new pension plan managed by the U.S. Enrichment Corp., which became the plant's private operator in 1992.
Former workers at U.S. Department of Energy facilities in Oak Ridge are in the original plan now managed by a company named BWXTY-12, which now operates the Oak Ridge facilities.
The pension plans were split under the congressional act that privatized the enrichment industry. Retired workers in Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, were placed under USEC, while retired Oak Ridge workers remained under the original plan.
Retired Paducah workers said it isn't fair that they haven't received a benefit increase since 1992, while the retired workers in Oak Ridge received increases on July 1 ranging from 4 to 23 percent.
"We didn't work for them (USEC) or retire from them, so they shouldn't be controlling our pension," said Art Edwards, chairman of a committee of retired Paducah plant workers. "We want to be put back into the same fund with the Oak Ridge retirees ... which we paid into for 50 years."
When the funds were split, $545 million was placed in the USEC fund, which was sufficient to cover the existing benefits for about 1,000 workers. The rest of the money — more than $2 billion — was kept in the original fund for the Oak Ridge workers. That fund includes a surplus estimated to be at least $800 million that was used to fund the recent increase for Oak Ridge retirees.
"Our argument is that we were in the fund that was well-managed and was able to build up the surplus that allowed for the increase," Edwards said. "We also should be able to benefit from it."
Edwards says Paducah retirees face the same inflation and increased cost as the Oak Ridge retirees. The inflation rate has averaged 3.3 percent annually since the mid-1980s.
The committee appointed to lobby for higher benefits has contacted USEC several times asking for an increase, Edwards said.
"We haven't gotten an official response, but it seems their position is that they have no liability for us because we didn't retire from them," he said. "They have left us hanging out on a limb."
Elizabeth Stuckle, spokeswoman for USEC, said USEC is assessing the request and should know within 30 days if it can grant an increase. The assessment includes a study of the assets and liabilities of the fund to see if it has built up an excess.
Stuckle said the only contributions to the fund have been to pay benefits for future retirees.