The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Union expects USEC to OK deal
Voting on the PACE proposal was scheduled for today. There is ‘a level of expectation’ that it will be approved by both sides, union president Leon Owens says.

By Joe Walker

Striking nuclear workers planned to vote today on a union contract package they hope will end a 17-week strike at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The sticking point is health insurance, said Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International. The union and plant operator USEC Inc. have strongly disagreed over the workers' share of rising health-care costs.

"The union has made some movement toward USEC regarding co-pay amounts," Owens said. "But in regard to the larger issue of the medical plan itself, we still have some disagreements."

Voting was set to start at 8 a.m. at the union hall on Cairo Road. Meetings were scheduled for 8 a.m. and 1, 4 and 7 p.m. on the proposal, endorsed by the union executive committee, he said. Results were expected before 10 p.m.

Owens expected that virtually all of the 635 union workers would turn out for the vote and approve the package as recommended by the bargaining committee. It would then be sent to USEC for review, with an answer expected by Wednesday morning, he said.

If the contract is approved by the company, the strike will end as quickly as possible without another union vote, Owens said. If not, the union will try to resolve limited points of contention and eventually vote again.

Because USEC bargainers indicated they would strongly consider the package, there is "a level of expectation" that it will be approved by both sides, he said.

Saying that not all union workers had been briefed, Owens would not reveal details of the proposal. USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle declined comment until the company has seen the package.

"If the union presents us something, we'll be more than glad to review it," she said. "We hope to reach a resolution soon and bring our employees back to work."

Except for the medical issue, the package reflects points agreed to by both sides as a way of ending the strike, Owens said. "What the union is going to do is provide, based on conversations with the company, a proposal that we feel is the best alternative" to the USEC medical proposal.

The vote also stems from talks between senior executives of PACE International and the company, he said. Major issues in the strike, in order of priority, have been pension, medical insurance, work responsibilities, short-term disability and wages.

About 500 union members attended an executive board meeting Tuesday afternoon to hear the terms of the package and what concessions had been made, Owens said.

Contracts typically are proposed by employers and voted on by unions. Owens said it is rare for a labor union to vote on a package and then seek company approval.

"I've been really proud of the union negotiating committee," he said. "I think the committee has continued, even after all these weeks of work stoppage, to try to find ways of reaching a settlement that is in the best interest of the membership and the company."