The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Sunday, December 07, 2003

Union Workers lack guarantees when contractor changes
The Paducah union's president says it is the first time DOE has failed to assure a seamless transition of workers.

By Bill Bartleman

Cleanup workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant who now work under a contract with Bechtel Jacobs Co. won't be guaranteed the same pay and benefits when a new contractor takes over late next year, according to Leon Owens, president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union, Local 5-0550.

Owens said in its original bid proposal 10 days ago, DOE failed to include provisions regarding the transition of existing employees. He said that on Thursday, after pressure from members of Congress and news media reports, DOE released workforce transition provisions that he said are unacceptable.

"The replacement contractor will not be required to honor the terms and conditions of the existing collective bargaining agreement for hourly worker employed by Bechtel, and its subcontractors Weskem and Swift and Staley," Owens said in testimony at Saturday's hearing of the Subcommittee on Energy of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It was chaired by U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning.

"It is the first time ... that DOE has failed to assure a seamless transition of workers," Owens said. He said collective bargaining agreements were guaranteed when USEC Inc. took over operation of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and for those who will work at the new plant that will recycle depleted uranium.

He said DOE's provisions also exclude cleanup workers from the multi-employer pension plan that was created when cleanup work was separated from the plant operations more than 10 years ago.

Owens urged Congress to get involved and resolve the issue to guarantee that workers will be treated the same under the new contract. About 600 are involved in cleanup activities.

Also at the hearing, Owens urged Congress to transfer management of a worker compensation benefit program from DOE to the U.S. Department of Labor. He said DOE is not equipped to handle the program that is the first step for injured workers and former workers seeking workers' compensation benefits.

Owens said that since the compensation program was initiated three years ago, 2,260 claims have been filed by Paducah workers but none has been processed through the first step, which is review by a physician panel.

Tom Rollow, director of DOE's Office of Worker Advocacy, acknowledged that there have been problems in the past, but said they are being resolved. He said recent changes have decreased the time it takes to process claims.

However, Bunning said that the changes so far have not been adequate. He told Rollow that if the pace of processing claims doesn't improve by next summer, the Energy Committee will push legislation to transfer the program to the U.S. Department Labor.