The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Bidders for DOE job listen to union
PACE says the contractors for infrastructure work were at least open-minded to hiring laid-off plant workers.

By Joe Walker

Atomic workers' union leaders say bidders for infrastructure work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant are receptive to union concerns that laid-off uranium enrichment workers are hired by a new contractor while keeping their pension and service credit.

Union officials met for two days last week with eight bidders for work at the Paducah plant and a closed enrichment plant in Piketon, Ohio. Leon Owens, former president of the Paducah union local, said bidders were asked to consider signing a memorandum of agreement protecting laid-off enrichment workers.

The issue has greater significance following Monday's announcement by USEC Inc. that Piketon, Ohio, will get a 500-job gas centrifuge plant replacing the outdated, 1,270-employee Paducah plant starting in 2010, he said.

"No one signed during the meetings, but we didn't expect that," Owens said. "We're going to have continuing dialogue with the bidders."

Most of the bidders were open to suggestions and viewed the talks more helpful than a Dec. 8 Department of Energy pre-bid conference, he said. "We made it plain to them that the union isn't seeking anything beyond what DOE has done in the past."

Among the bidders participating were four local firms: Infrastructure Services Group, Swift and Staley Mechanical Contractors, Western Kentucky Infrastructure Service and Western Kentucky Services.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield and Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell wrote Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, asking him to heed union concerns. Whitfield asked that DOE's bid request be changed to ensure "a seamless transition" from current cleanup contractor Bechtel Jacobs to a new arrangement favoring small business.

Considerable wording was added Dec. 4, but the language still doesn't protect laid-off USEC workers, Owens said. DOE wrote him Dec. 12, saying the bid requests would outline requirements for wages, pension and benefits "for all workers" of new infrastructure and cleanup firms.

Displaced USEC workers now qualify for full benefits with Bechtel Jacobs, but only workers of Bechtel Jacobs and its key subcontractors are grandfathered into the new $24 million-a-year contract, covering a variety of work in DOE-controlled areas of the Paducah plant. Bids are due Jan. 28, a contract will be awarded by May 20 and the winning firm will start work Aug. 29.

"We're hopeful between now and Jan. 28 to engage DOE," Owens said. "In the event we're not able, we've made it plain that bidders should expect further amendments. We're going to press forward trying to get the amendments added."

The union wants the winner to honor bargaining agreements between the union and Bechtel Jacobs, rather than merely "recognize" the union, as the bid request now states. They also want hiring and benefits requirements to "flow down" to subcontractors of the new company, and insist that a firm be hired to integrate job transition at Paducah and Piketon. Bechtel Jacobs currently does that work, managing 300 employees at Paducah and 350 at Piketon.

DOE is expected to begin seeking bids Thursday for a $90 million annual Paducah plant cleanup contract. Both it and the infrastructure contract are for five years. Trying to be more cost-efficient, DOE is splitting the old Bechtel Jacobs contract into two contracts each at Paducah and Piketon.

Owens said he hopes DOE will issue a draft bid request to allow the union to comment before a final request is released.

The union is concerned that the cleanup bid request will have the same language gaps as the infrastructure request, he said.