The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, March 19, 2003

PACE set to pursue labor feud in court
Their charge that USEC conducted unfair labor practices was dimissed by the National Labor Relations Board.

By Joe Walker

Striking nuclear workers' union leaders plan to go to court if necessary to try to win an unfair labor practices charge against USEC Inc. that the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed.

They also have expressed concern to Gov. Paul Patton about the clearances of some replacement workers during heightened security at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant because of the impending war with Iraq. USEC officials say all plant employees have clearances appropriate for their work areas and enhanced security will not affect the strike.

Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International, said he has decided to let NLRB Regional Director Ron Hooks issue a ruling dismissing the charge. Hooks, of Memphis, Tenn., had given the union a chance to resolve the matter informally by withdrawing the charge.

Joe Artiles, board resident officer in Nashville, Tenn., said Hooks would send a dismissal letter to Owens today.

"We still contend the charge has merit, and even though we understand the percentages are not in favor of getting a regional director's decision overturned, we still feel there is a substantial amount of evidence warranting a charge on this issue," Owens said.

The union will appeal to the board's general counsel, which could take months, he said. "If we still get a negative finding, we would then go to court."

Owens, who charged USEC with withholding benefits information during bargaining, said winning the case would qualify the 635 striking workers for unemployment benefits. The strike began Feb. 4 because of disagreements over pension and health-insurance costs.

"We are pleased that the issue has been clarified," said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "We hope to get back to the bargaining table soon and reach a resolution to the contractual issues in a rapid manner to benefit the workers, the plant and the community."

Talks with a federal mediator broke off Monday when Owens rejected the company's counterproposal as substandard.

Owens, who has repeatedly complained about contractors' doing union work during the strike, raised the issue again Tuesday after President Bush raised the national security level to orange, reflecting an increased risk of terrorism related to war with Iraq. The Paducah plant has strict security because it enriches uranium for nuclear fuel.

"We did talk with Patton's office this (Tuesday) morning and raised the question of having uncleared individuals working at the plant," Owens said, adding that he should receive a response by today. He said he called Patton because governors are in contact with federal Homeland Security officials.

Stuckle said the national security upgrade from yellow means increased surveillance for the plant, which is in compliance with new security orders from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"The strike does not affect security at the plant in any way because the security guards are in a different union," she said. "Everyone who is in the plant has the proper clearance for the work he or she does."