Plant retirees lobby for pension boost
Whitfield is urged to help in securing money transferred to USEC.
By Matt Sanders
Sunday, February 05, 2006
Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant retirees said Saturday that $100 million should have been added to the nearly $580 million in their pension account that was allocated to USEC when the uranium enrichment industry was privatized in 1999.
Frustrated by rising medical costs and inflation, more than 200 retirees and survivors of retirees turned out Saturday to ask for help from Congress. They put several questions about their pension to U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield in a meeting at the United Steelworkers Local 550 Hall on Cairo Road in Paducah.
Two recurring questions: How can they get the $100 million they feel is rightfully theirs, and what was the logic in transferring their pension to USEC, while Oak Ridge, Tenn., retirees remained under the Department of Energy, asked Harry Colbert, who presented the retirees´ concerns to Whitfield.
Most of the 780 Paducah retirees had retired long before USEC took over as operator of the plant in 1999 and wanted their pensions to remain with DOE. There also are 233 surviving spouses from the Paducah plant.
Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, promised the retirees that he would ask for a line-item explanation’ from DOE on the allocation to USEC for the pension fund, which retirees feel was too low. While the nearly $580 million was moved to USEC to cover retirees from the plants in Paducah and Portsmouth, Ohio, about $2.5 billion stayed in the Oak Ridge fund with DOE. Retiree Tom Emerson said that was not an equal distribution.
I will follow this closely with your attorney (Rick Walter) and I will get an answer for you,’ Whitfield said.
Whitfield explained that privatization legislation noted that changes in plant operators had occurred and that the plant operator would have the responsibility of administering the pension funds. Thus, USEC would control the fund for Paducah and Portsmouth retirees.
Previous plant operators were Union Carbide, Martin Marietta and Lockheed Martin.
Colbert said DOE does not want to change things.
DOE doesn´t give us any respect,’ Colbert said. They don´t return calls. I could not even get a list of retirees in order to contact you people.’
In June 2004, Colbert, Emerson and 10 other retirees filed suit in U.S. District Court trying to force the government to supplement the Paducah pension fund by $100 million. The suit was dismissed based on defense arguments that retirees missed the filing deadline by about a month, based on when the pension fund was separated. Walter maintained that the deadline had not passed.
The case was appealed to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where Walter hopes that oral arguments will be set within the next two months. A ruling from the three-judge panel would follow in three to six months, Walter said.
If there is a favorable ruling from this lawsuit, that would be the quickest way to remedy this,’ Whitfield said. I will follow this closely and we will meet again.’