The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Thursday, July 31, 2003

Union files charges for strike backlash
PACE president Leon Owens claims that USEC has discriminated against union members ever since they returned.

By Joe Walker

Union leaders are preparing various labor charges accusing USEC Inc. of mistreating employees who are readjusting to work after nearly a five-month strike at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

The charges will be filed by Friday, said Leon Owens, president of Local 5-550 of Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International. "I think these (alleged) violations are indicative of the return-to-work environment in certain areas of the plant," he said.

Pending charges consist of:

Three discrimination complaints before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Owens would not elaborate, except to say the respective charges have "a hint" of discrimination regarding sex, race and disability. "One in particular is, in our opinion, a blatant violation of privacy and medical information relative to individuals."

Two complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor, one alleging a wage-and-hour violation and another discrimination regarding the Family Medical Leave Act.

A National Labor Relations Board charge alleging violations of the back-to-work agreement. Owens said examples are USEC's refusal to allow union leaders to continue working day shifts to conduct union business and allowing managers to keep doing hourly work even if union employees are qualified and eligible for overtime.

"We've delayed filing these charges in hopes there might be a resolution to some of the outstanding issues, but it just has not happened," Owens said. "I'm very disappointed and displeased that we have to take this route, but we're prepared to do that and are going to move forward."

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Stuckle said USEC could not comment because it had not received the complaints.

After approving an eight-year contract, union workers returned to the plant June 27. The next week, General Manager Russ Starkey said most of the more than 500 union workers were glad to be back. But some union workers disagreed, and Owens said senior plant managers had an "in-your-face attitude" toward union leaders.

During the strike, the union vigorously fought USEC efforts to broaden union job responsibilities. The settlement set out a six-month learning period and required union workers to perform administrative tasks such as developing work permits, logging equipment status, verifying work packages and operating self-directed work crews. It also spelled out other support jobs, ranging from wiping down equipment to helping other craft workers.

Also this week, the union is preparing to file suit claiming the Department of Energy has not honored a Freedom of Information Act request for documentation about beryllium at the plant. Owens said the department has not answered union requests, first in 1999 and again last November, regarding the highly toxic metal machined at the plant during the Cold War.

Many workers have said they didn't know about beryllium until a 1999 Energy Department investigation revealed it was in nuclear weapons parts dismantled at the plant.

"DOE is trying to develop an environmental sampling plan for beryllium, but it won't release the information so we can provide some input," Owens said. "Our original request was for documents relating to the use of beryllium and similar materials, in what quantities and in what buildings."

Paducah plant workers who have chronic beryllium disease, which primarily affects the lungs, are eligible for $150,000 lump-sum payments and medical treatment paid by the Department of Labor.