The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

PACE ready to talk after meeting USEC executives
The union says the benefits it wants would cost the company less than USEC estimates are indicating.

By Joe Walker

Nuclear workers' union leaders hope to resume bargaining later this week after talking informally with USEC Inc. executives about the cost of ending a 12-week strike at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

After attending a shareholders' meeting Monday at company headquarters in Bethesda, Md., about 20 Paducah plant workers and USEC corporate officials met to talk about the strike. The group included USEC Executive Vice President Dennis Spurgeon; Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) Workers International; and both salaried and hourly plant workers.

Owens said an eight-year union contract proposal would cost a maximum of $25 million, compared with a $40 million USEC proposal. Each proposal would be doubled to provide the same wages and benefits to salaried employees. PACE's 635 members make up about half the plant's work force.

"Even if you assume that (the company's proposal) is accurate, $50 million is a far cry from $80 million," Owens said. "The union is asking for a little over $3 million a year in wages and benefits, and we just don't think that is unreasonable."

He said he would send a request today to USEC that seeks "specific" cost savings in a company proposal to raise from 10 percent to 19 percent workers' share of health insurance premiums over five years.

A prompt response is expected, allowing the union to make a more comprehensive new proposal from which to resume bargaining, Owens said.

"We appreciate the effort that the PACE members took in traveling this long way to come up and participate with us in our shareholders' meeting," said company spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle. "After the shareholders' meeting, we had a very open dialogue with the union that we hope will lead us to further discussions and working together."

Owens said the union package is very liberal because it does not take into account 200 ongoing job cuts and USEC's plans to reduce employment to about 1,100 within two years. Eighty-seven workers have taken early-retirement incentives, and PACE wants the company to offer more incentives, he said.

During the shareholders' meeting, USEC President William "Nick" Timbers stressed the need to cut labor costs 45 percent to remain competitive, Owens said, adding that the union needs details. "We just want the company to be upfront and explain what its intent is."

Union and management are at odds over health-care costs, pension and job responsibilities. Owens said union workers are already doing some managerial work and he sees "no reason" that should be made contractual.

Owens said he told Spurgeon that if the union can get a fair contract, it will work with USEC on big issues of importing Russian enriched uranium and building a gas centrifuge enrichment plant. In the shareholders' meeting, USEC officials declined to say exactly how they would finance the $1.5 billion plant, Owens said.

"I think that basically means they're looking at other companies as far as partnering."

Despite the strike, now in its 85th day, USEC has received a high rating from Institutional Shareholder Services of Rockville, Md.

The firm said USEC outperforms 99.9 percent of the companies in the Russell 3000, an index made up of the 3,000 largest public companies in the nation. ISS also gave USEC a score of 100 among companies in the nuclear industry group.