The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Saturday, June 14, 2003

Strike talks to continue, twenty nine jobs cut
PACE and USEC leaders will talk by telephone to iron out health insurance and other differences, and layoffs are part of the company’s cost-cutting plan.

By Joe Walker

As bargainers keep talking by telephone this weekend to try to end a 19-week nuclear workers' strike, the union is preparing for 29 more job losses amid cost cutting by USEC Inc.

Union and management leaders had tentatively planned to resume bargaining at 1 p.m. Friday, but opted to continue telephone discussions to iron out differences, particularly regarding health insurance.

"We're having ongoing dialogue and it's been positive," said Leon Owens, president of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Local 5-550. "Both sides have made considerable concessions trying to reach an end point that will be mutually beneficial."

Last week, the union approved a back-to-work package that USEC rejected Tuesday. The Friday meeting was planned for the company to provide financial information to the union regarding medical coverage, which has been the primary hurdle.

Owens said both sides agreed to postpone the meeting, not because of lack of progress, but to allow him to talk with senior USEC managers "to be sure of the direction" taken. USEC and the union continue to express optimism that a deal can be reached soon to end the strike, which started Feb. 4 at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The work stoppage followed a late-November announcement that USEC would cut roughly 200 jobs by Oct. 1 of this year, saving $15 million annually. Eighty-seven workers — 37 union and 50 salaried — took early retirement in January.

In May, USEC offered another round of incentives including retirement and voluntary severance. Those offers closed Thursday, resulting in 52 union and 29 salaried workers opting for early retirement and 22 union employees seeking voluntary layoffs.

Those and the previous 87 total 190 — 29 short of the now-established goal of 219 job cuts.

"We had targeted 103 union people not to come back," USEC spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said of the second-round offers. "That means there will be 29 jobs that the union will have to reduce involuntarily. They have a process to arrive at that number."

Union workers taking second-round offers left the plant payroll Friday, Stuckle said. "Non-union people won't be released until after the strike is over, for obvious reasons."

Younger union workers will less seniority are candidates for the involuntary cuts. Owens said an additional $1.5 million from the Department of Energy provided incentives for early retirement and voluntary cuts, lessening the number of forced layoffs.

Union workers whose age and work experience totaled 85 were offered retirement incentives of more than a year's pay plus $400 a month for seven years. Voluntary layoff perks consisted of a $10,000 lump-sum payment, a severance package and educational, relocation and medical benefits.