USEC has said it is committed to Paducah for another eight to 10 years, and contract talks with the PACE union are about 'normal issues.'
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
"The Paducah plant is still the heart of our business and a key element of national energy security," said USEC Inc. spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle, who was at the plant Wednesday. "We'll continue to invest about $500 million in the community to support operations of the plant. Well over 1,000 employees will work at the plant at least for the next eight to 10 years."
Periodic negotiations with Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) Workers International started Dec. 16 and resumed this week in Paducah after a two-week holiday break. Union President Leon Owens said the Piketon decision, reached a month ago, should not affect the talks.
"The political climate for USEC has definitely changed," he said. "It's quite different than it was last year."
The union has been working under a short-term contract approved in late November 2002 after protracted, sometimes contentious talks centering on USEC's long-term plans for the Paducah plant. Since then, USEC has signed an agreement with the Department of Energy to run the plant for at least eight to 10 more years and moved shipping facilities from the closed Piketon enrichment plant to Paducah, Owens said.
Current talks follow recent decisions by USEC to cut another 200 jobs at the plant and build a test gas centrifuge in Piketon. The plant precedes a 500-job commercial plant to be built in Piketon or Paducah by the end of the decade. It will eventually replace the outdated, expensive gaseous diffusion process used at Paducah.
"Even though USEC's financial situation is somewhat bleak, we still feel the company has made some strides for us," Owens said. "With those things in mind, we feel these negotiations will center on the normal issues, such as wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions."
He said soaring health-care costs, which are a nationwide problem, will undoubtedly be key to the talks. The pension fund will be another "critical area," Owens said.
The union represents about half the plant work force of 1,250.