Voting Wednesday by union members on an agreement reached Monday could end the work stoppage after 142 days.
By Brian Peach
That's when the 635 members of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International will vote at their headquarters on Cairo Road on the written agreement reached Monday. They compose half of the plant's work force.
Meetings will take place at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday for any of the 635 union workers who would like an explanation of the terms. Local President Leon Owens said he will be available to help brief them on the contract when they vote between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The tallying of votes will take about 45 minutes to an hour, Owens said.
After about 5 hours of talks ended around 8:45 p.m. Monday at Courtyard by Marriott, negotiators announced a settlement.
"It's been a long, long road that we've traveled, and I'm glad we're at an end point, hopefully," Owens said. "I feel we have done our best to represent (the union members)."
Chief Operations Officer for USEC Dennis Spurgeon said he was also happy with the agreement reached and is eager for workers to resume their jobs as soon as possible.
"You don't plan on waiting four months for a settlement, but that's how long it took for the parties to come together and reach an agreement," Spurgeon said. "I'm pleased to have all our workers back to work pending ratification Wednesday."
The last issue that the two sides worked on was credited service time, that is, time that counts toward retirement or vacation time accrued this year. Neither Owens nor Spurgeon would say Monday night how that issue was resolved.
Spurgeon and Owens agreed that health insurance and employee pensions were two of the most pressing and time-consuming issues. "Those are the two that are most difficult to get everyone to understand and agree on," Spurgeon said.
The session was the first since a 16-hour round of talks that ended in the early morning hours of May 15. At that time, USEC Inc. disagreed with a union plan to return to work.
On June 5, the union membership approved a separate back-to-work package that USEC rejected, primarily because of differences regarding health insurance. Led by Owens, union officials then began negotiating by telephone with senior USEC officials including President William "Nick" Timbers.
Monday's session formalized oral agreements on other key points, including work responsibilities, short-term disability and wages that led to the Feb. 4 strike.
Even if the union ratifies the contract and workers return Thursday, 29 positions will be eliminated Friday. Owens said that does not mean 29 workers will lose their jobs; some may be moved into other positions, and some senior employees will be offered lower-paying jobs.