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

USEC layoffs begin voluntarily
A retirement incentive first will be offered to about 200 employees eligible for full retirement even though they are still working.

By Bill Bartleman bbartleman@paducahsun.com--270.575.8650

A USEC Inc. plan to eliminate 200 jobs next year at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant is expected to save the company about $15 million a year.

USEC officials hope to meet the goal by offering retirement incentives and severance packages to workers who volunteer to be laid off.

The plan is the latest in the company's efforts to reduce costs and improve efficiency, said Morris Brown, USEC vice president of operations. Previous efforts have been the closing of the enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio, and the consolidation of shipping operations in Paducah, site of the nation's only plant that enriches uranium for use as a nuclear fuel.

In reducing the Paducah work force from its current level of 1,450, Brown said, "Our cost effectiveness studies indicate that we can continue to safely and reliably operate the plant at current production levels with fewer people.

The reductions will keep the plant within employment requirements established by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, according to Victoria Mitlyng, spokesman at the federal agency's regional office in Leslie, Ill.

The NRC oversees the operation of the plant to make sure it is operated safely. "Our resident inspectors will be monitoring the reduction to make sure there is no reduction in safety," Mitlyng said.

Employees were notified of the planned reduction Tuesday. The retirement incentive will be offered to about 200 salaried and union employees eligible for full USEC retirement benefits even though they are still working. They are workers over 65, workers over 60 with at least eight years of service and workers whose age plus years of service total 83 or more.

USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said retirement incentives will include the normal retirement package, a Social Security supplement for those under 62 and a lump-sum payment as part of a benefit offer by the U.S. Department of Energy, which operated the plant until five years ago, when the enrichment operation was privatized.

Stuckle said eligible employees will be notified of details of the incentive plan early next month. She said a number of employees have expressed interest in a retirement incentive package.

If the reduction goal of 200 is not reached through retirement, USEC will offer incentives to those who volunteer to be laid off. It could be taken by employees who are close to retirement but not eligible for full benefits and employees who have been contemplating leaving to pursue other jobs.

It also will include a lump-sum payment from DOE, a severance package from USEC and additional incentives from DOE to help the workers find new jobs.

If the 200 target is not met through the two voluntary programs, there will be involuntary layoffs, Brown said.

He indicated there could be additional staff reductions in the future. "As improvements are implemented and technology improves, it is inevitable that work can be accomplished with fewer resources," Brown said.

Leon Owens, president of the plant's production workers union, said he supports USEC's plan to offer early retirement incentives. "It will benefit our senior workers and recognize their years of service," Owens said.

He said an important part of the plan is the DOE offer of a lump-sum incentive similar to what was offered workers who lost their jobs when the Ohio plant closed. He said DOE will finalize its plan within two weeks.