The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

Contractor: Workforce for cleanup not decided

Uncertainty lingers over salaried employees of Paducah Remediation Services.

Joe Walker

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Paducah Remediation Services is still trying to determine how many salaried employees will be needed when it takes over for Bechtel Jacobs April 23 as the new cleanup contractor at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.

That is one of the uncertainties facing the Hopkinsville-based West Kentucky Workforce Investment board, which provides services to dislocated workers. The organization has run out of federal money in its 17-county area, fears still deeper budget cuts and has notices of potentially another 750 layoffs. Nearly half of those are at Bechtel Jacobs and Weskem, the lead plant waste management contractor, but many if not all of those people may be rehired by Paducah Remediation Services (PRS) and the firms working under it.

Although Weskem reportedly issued voluntary layoff notices Friday, company officials could not be reached for elaboration.

About 560 people are employed by Bechtel Jacobs and its various subcontractors. Of those, about 160 are members of the plant nuclear workers´ union. Union President Rob Ervin said he expects few if any hourly workers to lose jobs.

“There may be some reduction on the salaried side of the fence,’ he said. “But it´s not applicable to the union.’

The number of salaried workers needed will be resolved by analyzing the amount of work PRS must do, given an extensive lag between the time it bid for the work and was awarded the contract, said Yvette Cantrell, public affairs officer for PRS.

In January 2005, the Department of Energy awarded a $303 million contract to North Wind Paducah Cleanup Co., but several other bidders balked. Their protests were dismissed with DOE´s agreement to rebid the work last summer. At that time, the agency said ongoing work by Bechtel Jacobs would reduce the value of the cleanup to about $279 million.

When DOE awarded the revised contract to PRS in December, it was worth about $192 million. Its contract runs through Sept. 30, 2009.

The difference in contract values does not mean a decrease in employment, Cantrell said. “It doesn´t at all suggest a different approach to employment that Northwind might have had versus PRS.’ She said the assessment of how many salaried workers will be needed factors in how much work Bechtel Jacobs did or didn´t accomplish during the lag time, as well as how much new work is required of PRS.

“It´s just too early for us to make that projection,’ Cantrell said. “The gap analysis is to try to maximize the number of jobs needed.’

Whoever is rehired will go to work immediately with PRS, she said.

Bechtel Jacobs and Weskem have given notice to the work force board of a total of 346 workers potentially being laid off with the ending of their contracts. The board has not been informed how many of those workers, if any, might actually lose jobs, Director Sheila Clark said.

Clark said many of the remaining 404 layoff notices in the Pennyrile area are particularly associated with cuts in the garment industry. They are spread over a wide variety of employers, she said.

Last fall, the board received $945,470 from the Department of Labor to serve dislocated workers for the next two years. The money has already been spent because of the heavy number of existing layoffs, notably 730 when Continental Tire ceased production in Mayfield 15 months ago, Clark said.

To make matters worse, the board is “very concerned’ about President Bush´s 2007 budget, which effectively cuts 15 percent across all DOL work force funding categories, she said. The budget also basically rewrites part of dislocated worker-funding legislation by proposing that 75 percent of the services be through “career advancement accounts’ capped at $3,000 per dislocated individual for all services, Clark said.

“We find that this would effectively reduce services for dislocated workers, as services are normally more expensive in rural areas in addition to supportive costs such as travel,’ she said. “This is very important to constituents in western Kentucky, and the number of dislocated workers continues at high levels.’