The strikers hope to get answers about the uncertain future of the company, which is planning a gas centrifuge plant.
By Joe Walker firstname.lastname@example.org
"We've heard USEC might try to exclude union shareholders, but we're hopeful that's not in mind because we're not going up to be disruptive at all," said Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International. "We think it's time to get directly involved because we have a lot of people at the plant who are shareholders."
Meetings are open to all stockholders, said USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "Any shareholder is welcome to attend USEC's shareholder meeting as long as he is able to demonstrate that he is a shareholder."
About 30 union workers and supporters will leave by bus about 4:45 a.m. Saturday for Manassas, Va., where they will spend the night. On Sunday, the group will see sights in nearby Washington, D.C., before driving to the shareholders' meeting at 9 a.m. CDT Monday at USEC headquarters.
"Not everyone going on the trip is a shareholder, so some of them we're expecting won't be allowed in," Owens said. "I'm a shareholder, and the comments I'm hoping to be able to make are not meant to be construed to negotiate in public with the corporation."
USEC, which lost $14.7 million during the last half of 2002, has refused to increase blue-collar workers' pensions and wants to raise the union's share of health insurance costs from 10 percent to 19 percent over five years. The local's 635 members, representing about half the plant's work force, have been on strike since Feb. 4. No new negotiations are set.
The company plans to build a 500-job, $1.5 billion gas centrifuge plant by the end of the decade at either Paducah or Piketon, Ohio, to replace the outdated, costly Paducah plant. Union workers are worried that Piketon, which has advantages over Paducah, will be selected and their jobs will be lost.
A plant cost of $1.5 billion is high, given USEC's financial situation and having a $500 million unpaid debt from when the firm was privatized in 1998, Owens said. "Those are ongoing issues that could be a concern for anyone trying to obtain a partner."
Despite some surges, the price of USEC shares has fallen from $14.25 in 1998 to under $5.50. The union has repeatedly criticized the company for paying large salaries and bonuses to senior managers, headed by Chief Executive Officer William "Nick" Timbersí nearly $2.5 million.
USEC says the pay is based on a study of comparative firms and about 65 percent of top executives' compensation is tied to the stock market.
Owens said the union is preparing to appeal the National Labor Relations Board's mid-March dismissal of union allegations that USEC did not bargain in good faith. He said the appeal, to be filed in the next few days, will go to the board's general counsel in Washington.
The union claimed that USEC had withheld benefits information during negotiations. Winning the case would qualify striking workers for unemployment benefits, Owens said.