Fallout on pending layoffs continues

By Frank Lewis

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The announcement earlier in the week that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was sending out WARN Act notices to 1,400 employees at the decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) project at Piketon, has begun to have a large ripple effect among lawmakers in Washington.

“Cleaning up the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio is an economic and environmental necessity,” Congressman Brad Wenstrup said. “Unfortunately, the Department of Energy has once again put jobs at risk and jeopardized the project by announcing plans to lay-off Ohio workers, despite having the tools and ability to sustain full funding.”

Members of the Ohio Congressional delegation released a letter to the Department of Energy deriding the repeated failures to keep the project on track, calling for the Secretary of Energy to sustain current funding levels and avoid layoffs.

“This Administration’s failure to keep their commitments is untenable for southern Ohio,” Wenstrup said. “I will continue to fight for the workers and families affected by this decision, despite the DOE’s dereliction, but we need the Department of Energy and this Administration to step up and close the funding gap.”

Congressman Bill Johnson said environmental clean-up and restoration work employs 1,950 individuals and is critically important to the economy of southern Ohio. By refusing to request adequate funding to maintain the site, DOE announced it has plans to lay off up to 500 Ohio workers and up to 70 sub-contractor jobs.

“For the third consecutive year, the Department of Energy (DOE) has put jobs at risk and jeopardized the decontamination and decommissioning efforts in Piketon, despite the commitment of the Obama Administration to clean-up the site in preparation for reindustrialization,” Johnson said. “I hoped that the continued uncertainty experienced by the Piketon community would not repeat itself this year. Then presidential candidate Barack Obama stated in 2008, ‘the failure to clean up this site quickly will delay future economic development opportunities and only add additional costs and pose undue environmental risks.’ We now have yet another broken promise by the Obama Administration.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has called on both leadership of the Senate Appropriators Committee and the Obama Administration to fully fund the operation.

“For years, the employees at the Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Portsmouth have worked to clean and restore the site. But a downturn in the uranium market and insufficient funding for ongoing operations have resulted in a budget shortfall and potential layoffs,” Brown said. “Congress must come together to provide the resources needed to continue cleanup progress and support the community. Setbacks on this project will hurt workers and southeast Ohio’s economy. That’s why sequestration’s mindless cuts must end, and it is why I’ll continue to pursue every option to secure the funding necessary to prevent layoffs.”

Meanwhile, USW Local 689 and SPFPA Local 66, the unions representing a majority of workers at the PORTS D&D site, in coordination with the Pike and Scioto county commissioners are planning a town hall meeting Sept. 9 to address the pending layoffs and discussing future options such as organizing a public caravan to take the community’s fight to Washington, D.C.

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

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