The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Optimism growing that USEC, PACE to agree on tax bill

By Bill Bartleman

FRANKFORT, Ky.--Sen. Bob Leeper was optimistic late Tuesday that USEC Inc. and union workers were nearing an agreement on issues that could remove the union's opposition to a bill that would exempt enriched uranium from the state's 6 percent sales tax.

Representatives of USEC and the Paper Allied-Industrial Chemical & Energy Workers Union met for three hours Tuesday and will meet again this morning, Leeper said. The meeting included Leon Owens, president of PACE Local 5-550 in Paducah, and Phil Potter, the international union's Washington lobbyist.

"I am a little more optimistic now than I was earlier in the day," Leeper said after being briefed on the late afternoon meeting at USEC headquarters in Bethesda, Md. "As long as they are willing to talk, there's always hope that issues will be resolved."

The bill exempting the sales tax on enriched uranium produced at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant was sidetracked in the House after PACE and the Kentucky AFL-CIO opposed it strongly.

The union is using the issue as a negotiating tool with USEC on a range of issues, Leeper said. He wouldn't divulge those issues because he didn't want to interfere with the negotiations.

However, Rep. Frank Rasche, D-Paducah, indicated one of the issues is related to how laid-off workers will be treated at USEC's facilities in Portsmouth, Ohio. The enrichment plant there was closed last summer, eliminating hundreds of jobs. An additional 440 jobs will be eliminated this summer when final shipping operations are transferred from Portsmouth to Paducah.

Another issue has been the new positions that will be created in Paducah by the movement of the final shipping operation. USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle in the past has said it will create 30 to 50 new positions. Other work will be absorbed by employees involved in shipping the unfinished product from Paducah to Portsmouth.

Stuckle would not comment or confirm that those jobs were part of the company's talks with the union, but she did say it appeared progress was made in Tuesday's meeting. "Our people who were involved said it was very productive, and the communications and discussion will continue," she said.

Rasche and Rep. Charles Geveden, D-Wickliffe, said they were involved in a conference call with USEC officials earlier in the day. They said they were given an update on the talks with the union but also would not reveal the issues.

Leeper, Rasche and Geveden said the top USEC officials they talked to Tuesday did not issue threats that the failure to pass the tax exemption would have a negative effect on future decisions about the Paducah plant.

Late Tuesday, Leeper said his conversation with USEC representatives, whom he didn't identify, has been "understanding and cordial regarding our view" that the union opposition must be removed before the tax issue is resurrected.

"We (lawmakers) can't affect what they are doing, but they can affect what we are doing," Leeper said of the negotiations between USEC and PACE. "I think that we are all after the same goal, which is to do what we can to help the Paducah plant and the workers."

Elaine Spalding, president of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce, and McCracken Judge-Executive Danny Orazine were in Frankfort to discuss the importance of the tax bill's approval.