The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Friday, March 14, 2003

USEC to reveal counterproposal Monday as PACE strike continues

By Joe Walker

Company negotiators will present their latest counterproposal when bargaining resumes at 10 a.m. Monday in the seventh week of a strike at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

Federal mediators will help the two sides try to narrow a gap mainly over pension and health-care costs. The dispute led to the Feb. 4 strike of 635 members of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) Workers International.

Mediation broke off Tuesday after the union made a new proposal that company negotiators said they needed time to study.

The proposal "did not meet any of USEC's principal bargaining objectives," Human Resources Director Bill Thompson said in a letter Thursday to Leon Owens, union local president. "To move the negotiations forward, we are preparing a counterproposal that will better address the mutual interests of the union and the company."

Thompson said USEC agreed to resume Monday to meet the schedules of federal mediator Ben Jeffries and union Regional Vice President Jerry Johnston, who is now the lead PACE negotiator.

Owens was upset at waiting much of Wednesday for a new USEC offer that never came. He said he still has the authority to bargain when Johnston is unavailable. Because of another commitment, Johnston can't resume negotiations until Monday, he said.

"The only reason the delay (until Monday) is acceptable is that the union views it to be very important for Mr. Jeffries to be there," Owens said. "We were prepared to meet Wednesday even though Mr. Johnston wasn't here."

Also Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved an administrative review of USEC's license application for a 50-job plant in Piketon, Ohio, to test gas centrifuge technology to enrich uranium. USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said the approval was three months ahead of schedule and the next step is technical review. The company expects to be licensed by February 2004, she said.

The Piketon plant will test technology for a 500-job commercial plant to replace the Paducah plant starting about 2010. Piketon and Paducah are vying for the commercial plant, but USEC has said Piketon continues to have advantages.

Owens said earlier that centrifuge-plant issues were not factors in voting down a five-year contract offer or going on strike.z