The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Legislation provides pension protection for cleanup workers

By Joe Walker

Friday, July 29, 2005

Congress is on track to pass legislation to protect the pensions and retiree medical benefits of displaced uranium enrichment workers who find jobs with Department of Energy cleanup firms.

The amendment, introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, was part of the Energy Conference report passed 275-156 Thursday by the House of Representatives. Jeff Miles, Whitfield's press secretary, said the report is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law later this year.

DOE is replacing cleanup contractor Bechtel Jacobs at Paducah and Piketon, Ohio, with two firms — one for cleanup and another for plant infrastructure work. For the past five years, USEC Inc. enrichment workers transferring to cleanup jobs took their pension and retiree health benefits with them, but now DOE wants to exclude nonvested hourly workers.

In a speech to the conference committee, Whitfield said the provision directs the Energy Department to maintain the longtime pension and health care transfer policies.

"We have demonstrated to DOE that there is little or no cost for maintaining a seamless transition," Whitfield said.

DOE agreed to maintain equivalent-cost benefits for the first year after new contractors are in place, but many workers will lose decades of accumulated service credit under that approach "for no valid reason," he said.

Phillip Foley, president of the plant nuclear workers' union, said the legislation preserves the rights of hourly employees. "That's what we asked for, and we appreciate all the work that Rep. Whitfield and Sens. (Jim) Bunning and (Mitch) McConnell have done on our behalf on this," Foley said.

The amendment covers Paducah USEC workers hired by new infrastructure contractor Swift & Staley and any of its subcontractors. It also covers Bechtel Jacobs' cleanup successor, which will start work Nov. 1 under a contract through Sept. 30, 2009. Bids for the job are due by Thursday.

More than 500 people currently work for Bechtel Jacobs and its subcontractors. USEC employs 1,270 at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.