The Paducah Sun
The Paducah Sun
Paducah, Kentucky

DOE cleanup to employ 400 at job´s start

Paducah Remediation Services will employ about 150 fewer people than its predecessors.

By Joe Walker

Friday, April 21, 2006

Paducah Remediation Services will start cleanup work Monday at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant with 400 full-time employees, a reduction of about 150 from predecessor Bechtel Jacobs and its 26 subcontractors.

Out of the 400, the firm has hired 100 of 123 so-called “grandfathered’ workers who were employed by Lockheed Martin Corp. when it was replaced by Bechtel Jacobs in 1998, PRS spokeswoman Yvette Cantrell said. Those workers have carried the same basic health and pension plans throughout the transition.

Some longtime, experienced workers have complained to the Sun about getting inferior job offers or no offers, and being replaced by people “off the street.’ Cantrell responded that “only a handful of administrative people’ from Oak Ridge, Tenn., have been brought in, and the rest of the employees have come from the existing Paducah work force.

Cantrell also dismissed claims that PRS is cutting jobs because it substantially underbid its work. She said the $192 million contract is for just under 3 1/2 years, reflecting more than 18 months of work done by Bechtel Jacobs during a protracted bidding process to select a successor.

A previous 4 1/2-year, $303 million contract was awarded 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, resulting in the PRS contract.

“As far as PRS is concerned, we bid the dollars associated with what it would take to do the scope of work,’ Cantrell said.

Another concern expressed by workers is that PRS has hired too few workers — particularly in the areas of radiation protection and health physics — to maintain health and safety standards. Cantrell said the reduction in employees is largely because PRS is doing all the work, compared with Bechtel Jacobs´ subcontracting about 90 percent of it to other firms.

“This is a self-performing contract, so basically what you do is cut out several layers of oversight management,’ she said.

Energy Department spokeswoman Megan Barnett said DOE ensured that the PRS contract gave considerable preferential hiring to existing workers. She also said the reduced value of the contract reflected work already done by Bechtel Jacobs.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, who last fall spearheaded legislation to protect cleanup worker pensions and health insurance, said Thursday that he had not been told what the final job numbers would be.

“My primary responsibility is to secure funding for the cleanup efforts,’ he said. “Congress has consistently appropriated funds above and beyond the administration´s request, and I will continue to do my part to ensure that the cleanup proceeds on schedule.’

Neither PRS nor DOE had advised Sen. Jim Bunning of the number of jobs to be retained, said Mike Reynard, Bunning´s press secretary.

Sen. Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he was unaware of some workers´ claims about unfair job cuts.