The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

USEC, PACE to renew talks
The union called for the new contract talks, set for Monday, but says it is unchanged on strike issues.

By Joe Walker

Striking nuclear workers have gotten USEC Inc. to agree to renewed contract talks Monday, but union President Leon Owens said the meeting does not mean picketers are backing down from their demands.

"Our position has not changed relative to the issues that forced us to strike," he said, referring to wages, health-care costs, pension and contract terms. "But the union is taking the meeting seriously, and we're hoping the company will do the same."

Owens had planned to meet with Gov. Paul Patton and state AFL-CIO leaders Thursday in Frankfort at the governor's request, but that meeting was postponed with no new date set. Patton has been at a governors' conference in Washington, D.C.

Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International, phoned lead USEC negotiator Bill Thompson around 10 a.m. Tuesday to seek the first meeting with union bargainers since a Feb. 19 session with a federal mediator proved fruitless. Monday's meeting, projected to start at 8 a.m., will not involve the mediator.

"Of course, we're going to meet with them, and we look forward to resuming negotiations," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle.

Owens said he sought the meeting to complete an exchange of information about some contract issues.

The union went on strike Feb. 4 and filed an unfair labor practices charge alleging USEC had not provided some contract-related information and therefore did not bargain in good faith. The charge remains before the National Labor Relations Board and could take weeks to resolve.

USEC later responded with some of the material and at the Feb. 19 session asked the union for information including a new proposal "along the medical lines," Owens said. "The union is prepared to respond to that request across the table."

Strikers overwhelmingly rejected a five-year proposal from USEC, partly because the company wanted to raise their share of health insurance premiums from 10 to 19 percent by 2007. Starting Saturday, the company will stop paying for group insurance, forcing the 635 union workers to consider opting for transitional insurance costing tenfold what they were paying. The workers also are losing an average of $3,500 in monthly wages.

Owens said the insurance development was not a factor in seeking the meeting Monday. A Paducah Bank fund contributed to by members of PACE and other unions will help the most financially strapped nuclear workers, particularly those who are already sick, to pay the higher medical costs temporarily, he said.

"Even though folks are having some financial difficulties, they know there is a unified group here and we're all in this together," he said. "They share a common goal to get a contract proposal they can accept and then go back to work."