500 layoffs possible at Piketon plant

By Frank Lewis

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A Fluor BWXT spokesman has verified that approximately 1,400 WARN Act notices were being sent out Wednesday to employees at the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project at Piketon. In addition the notices were sent to community and government leaders such as mayors and city managers of cities where employees live.

Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act) is a United States labor law which protects employees, their families, and communities by requiring most employers with 100 or more employees to provide 60 calendar-day advance notification of plant closings and mass layoffs of employees.

Jeff Wagner, of Fluor BWXT, said the first action would be to call for voluntary separations.

‘The DOE (Department of Energy) rules call for a voluntary separation program before we open up to involuntary,” Wagner said. “That goes through a Sept. 10 window.

Wagner said the company is looking at an overall possible range of 325 to 500 layoffs in addition to some 70 other affiliated employees such as those who are in management with Fluor BWXT or one of their subcontractors.

“We’ve got a lot of embedded contractors, so we could literally have 570 (layoffs),” Wagner said.

In reaction to an announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) of WARN Act notices for cleanup workers at the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, U.S. Senator Rob Portman said – “Today’s announcement that 500 Piketon employees could be laid-off by October first represents another broken commitment to the community by this Administration.”

Portman reiterated the request by company and community officials calling for complete government funding for the cleanup project.

“For the past three years Congress has been calling on this Administration to provide the Piketon site the stable funding it deserves. Congress was barely able to prevent the Administration from laying off 700 Piketon employees during the holidays last winter,” Portman said. “I thought the Administration would have learned its lesson with that experience, yet here we are again not even a year later, facing nearly the same situation. The Administration’s refusal to do the right thing by this community is baffling, especially given the President’s past statements of support.”

Portman was referencing a statement made by President Barack Obama when he was running for president in 2008. In part, Obama wrote, “The failure to clean up this site quickly will delay future economic development opportunities and only add additional mortgage costs and pose undue environmental risks.” Portman and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also called on DOE to provide answers regarding concerns over funding for the project, which currently employees 1,900 individuals.

Wagner said right now the project is looking at anything from a $55 million to an over $80 million shortfall in funding.

“It just depends on where this thing lands,” Wagner said. “In either case it’s bad case or worst case.”

That shortfall is the result of a combination of scenarios – one is a reduction in appropriations and the other is a new limitation on uranium barter which went from the ability to barter 2,055 metric tons of uranium to 1,600 metric tons coming into this year.

“That has an impact on FY-16,” Wagner said.

Wagner said he was unsure as to when there will be any further information as to the future of the funding for the project.

“There has not been a budget this year. There has been a Continuing Resolution (CR),” Wagner said. “Last year we didn’t find out until the third week of December where funding was going to land. So we’re very much sitting on the sidelines watching to see as far as from the president and the congress when the FY-16 budget will be approved and if so what the number is for the project.”

Wagner said on Wednesday morning the company met with supervisors to explain the situation. He said workers and those supporting workers at the plant should begin to contact government officials.

“We encourage them to weigh in with the department (DOE), weigh in with their government officials,” Wagner said. “They need to make sure their voice is heard on this. It is really important. It not only affects up to 570 individuals, but families and communities.”

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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