The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, March 13, 2003

USEC, union no closer to ending strike
The two sides are still separated by much more than the road between their hotels.

By Joe Walker

After another round of talks with federal mediators, union and company negotiators are no closer to resolving disagreements that led to a strike starting five weeks ago at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International, expressed frustration at waiting several hours Wednesday for a USEC Inc. counterproposal that did not come. Owens and his team spent much of the day at the Drury Inn while company bargainers talked across the road at Courtyard by Marriott.

"This is a situation where mismanagement of the company continues to be magnified by the inability to decide amongst themselves on a proposal, let alone be able to negotiate with this union," he said. "We're beyond the point of posturing. We're at a critical juncture relative to this plant's existence."

The union gave the company a new proposal Tuesday afternoon after meeting all day Monday with two federal mediators. USEC provided feedback Tuesday evening "and shared our disappointment in their recent proposal," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle.

She said the offer came after USEC Chief Financial Officer Henry Shelton told union leaders it would cost $40 million to pay for the benefits in the union's original proposal and another $40 million to make the same package available to the other half of the work force that isn't striking. The plant employs more than 1,200.

The new union proposal "does not address some of our economic issues and does not bring other issues to a more appropriate economic level," Stuckle said. "We are disappointed that the union has not modified its proposals to reach negotiable economic levels. We seriously want to bring the strike to closure and are looking for ways to bring the parties closer."

Owens said he simply doesn't believe the $80 million figure. "I don't know the basis for the number she has portrayed," he said.

Initially, the union wanted USEC to raise pension about $250 a month for the average worker at a cost the company said was $26 million. Owens said the union has reduced its request at a lesser cost, but he declined to elaborate on that or other contract terms.

The two sides also are far apart on issues of work flexibility and health-care costs. Before striking Feb. 4, the union overwhelming rejected an offer to nearly double workers' share of medical insurance premiums over five years.

Shelton told union bargainers the $508 million pension plan is underfunded and shrinking with the stock market. USEC, which has revised its fiscal year to end Dec. 31 instead of June 30, showed nearly a $14 million deficit in the plan during the last six months of 2002. There was nearly a $122 million surplus in mid-2001.

"We just have not received a reasonable explanation for those types of losses for a six-month period," Owens said. "I don't trust the numbers. I just don't feel they are accurate."