The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, April 26, 2003

USECs tactics in strike assailed
Sen. Bunningsays, ‘The workers get the short end of the stick,’ and thinks it's time for arbitration on the issues.

Staff Report

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning accused USEC Inc. of bargaining in bad faith with its striking union workers and of being in no hurry to end a strike that began almost three months ago.

"I've almost given up on USEC," Bunning said in an interview Friday while visiting Paducah. "The company has not been straightforward with its workers. It gives its CEO and other executives big bonuses. Then they cry poor mouth with the workers. The workers get the short end of the stick."

USEC, which operates the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, and the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Local 5-550 resumed negotiations from 2 to about 5:15 p.m. Friday. The union is preparing a formal request for information regarding the company's financial data "to support increasing the co-payment and the medical plan design changes," Local President Leon Owens said.

The request could be ready to send to USEC today. Owens said it is standard procedure to ask for that information before the union can offer a counterproposal.

The main issues in the strike by 635 union members, which began Feb. 4, are pension, medical co-payments by the workers and work responsibilities of managers at the plant. Friday's meeting was the first since an April 2 session at the union's international headquarters in Nashville, Tenn.

No date has been set for further talks, but USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said from company headquarters in Bethesda, Md., "We welcome the opportunity to review a new union proposal that would offer appropriate cost savings for the company."

The executive bonuses have been an issue with the union workers, who have been asked to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums to help ease the company's financial problems.

Union officials have said that USEC President William "Nick" Timbers received a bonus last year of more than $780,000, double what he received in 2001. Also, the union claims Executive Vice President Dennis Spurgeon received a bonus of $440,000, while two senior vice presidents, Henry Shelton Jr. and Philip Sewell, received bonuses of $227,000 and $187,000, respectively.

Two of the major sticking points have been the union's demand for increased pension benefits and the company's plan to increase the workers' share of health insurance premiums to 19 percent in five years.

The company has called the offer fair. Stuckle said Friday that the average in the national utility and energy industry is 24 percent.

Bunning said that as long as salaried workers are running the plant safely and meeting the demand for enriched uranium, the company is not motivated to reach a settlement.

"I don't know if pension and the other union demands are way out of sync, but I do know that USEC isn't the best-run company in the world," Bunning said.

He said it is time to present the issues to an arbitrator to suggest a resolution. Bunning said he wasn't suggesting binding arbitration "because I know the company would never accept that."