PACE President Leon Owens says their motive to picket was to draw attention to pension and health insurance concerns that started the strike Tuesday.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
Waving at an occasional passing auto, the longtime plant workers said they had orders from striking union leaders to stay out of the road and not impede motorists. Earlier in the day, USEC filed an unfair labor practice charge against Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical Workers International, alleging pickets had "restrained and coerced" contractors from entering the plant.
"They don't want us out here, and I think they're just making a big deal out of the thing," said 27-year plant worker Brent Warford, leaning on a picket sign near a burning barrel. "We're not bothering anybody."
USEC lawyers filed the charge after Local 5-550 President Leon Owens refused to remove the pickets from McCaw Road, which links the plant with Metropolis Lake Road near Grahamville.
Owens said he has visited the McCaw Road picket site regularly, as well as the main site at the plant entrance at Woodville and Hobbs roads. "I still stand by my comments made previously that picketers in both locations have been professional, courteous and respectful."
He said their "only motive" was to draw public attention to pension and health insurance concerns that started the strike at 7 a.m. Tuesday. The union rejected a USEC contract offer Friday because it did not raise pension and required members to pay a greater share of medical costs.
Chris Naas and others who began picketing on Hobbs Road said workers worry about fixed pension and increased health-care costs, especially because of the potential for diseases related to job exposure. Naas said his father, who died from plant exposure, lived 20 years on a pension of $240 a month.
Union officials say they won't go back to the bargaining table unless the company will discuss raising pensions about $250 a month. USEC managers respond that few firms fund pensions anymore and that blue-collar workers' share of health-care costs still is well below the national average.
The labor charge alleges "unlawful secondary picketing" on a road used by construction contractors who do plant work unrelated to USEC operations. "An object of this picketing is to force or require these neutral contractors to cease doing business with USEC," the charge states.
McCaw Road picketing was reported peaceful but "did have an impact on contractors at the site," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "They are picketing in an area that is not legal for them to picket."
The four picketers said they understood some union plumbers and truck drivers had refused to cross the picket line. But Johnny McGuire, a 32-year employee, said he was puzzled why USEC removed a security barrier on McCaw Road on Monday. Amid heightened security, the barrier had been there since soon after the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
"If it was a heightened-security area before the strike, why wouldn't it be after the strike started?" he wondered.
The picketing charge was referred to the National Labor Relations Board office in Nashville, Tenn. Resident officer Joe Artiles said labor charges filed during strikes typically are put on a fast track.
"These are cases we have to handle pretty quickly," he said Wednesday. "We'll try to obtain (USEC) evidence in the next day or two, then contact the union and get a response. We hope to have a determination by the end of the week."
Owens said USEC officials told him they had videotaped McCaw Road picketing problems, but Artiles said he was not aware of any supporting evidence. If the regional director finds the charge has merit and the union doesn't stop picketing, the board might have to seek an injunction in federal court, he said.
Greg Cook, spokesman for Bechtel Jacobs, the plant's lead environmental cleanup firm, said picketing had not affected work by his company or its many subcontractors.