Uranium plant workers agree to partial strike settlement

Striking workers at a government-owned uranium-processing plant voted overwhelmingly Saturday to approve a partial contract settlement with the company that operates the facility, a spokesman said. The settlement will allow 625 workers, who have been on strike since Oct. 7, to return to work, said plant spokesman Pete Kelley.

About 250 of the workers, however, lost their jobs last week to layoffs resulting from decreased production demands.

Mr. Kelley said members of 14 unions represented by the Fernald Atomic Trades and Labor Council approved the agreement by a 3-to-1 ratio.

Production at the plant in Fernald, 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati, formally known as the Feed Materials Production Center, has been halted since the strike began. The plant, owned by the United States Department of Energy, processes uranium that the government uses in nuclear weapons.

Since the strike, the Fernald plant has become embroiled in controversy, following the DOE's admission that radioactive material from the plant leaked into the environment over a 30-year period.

The Department of Energy has pledged itself to a massive cleanup, and recent reports indicate the department is considering closing the facility altogether. The striking workers met Friday and heard details of the proposed settlement.

When they struck in October, union leaders said the dispute was not over wages but over fringe benefits and retirement programs. They said the company wanted workers to pay more for benefits.

The agreement includes a new health insurance program, but no pay increase.

Under the agreement, workers can return to work and pursue a backlog of up to 4,000 safety and health grievances.

Kendell McIntyre, a worker at the Fernald plant who has received his layoff notice, said he voted to accept the contract so he could receive his severance benefits.

``I've already received my order saying I'd be let go. I voted for it so I can take the money I'm entitled to, get out, and find another job,'' Mr. McIntyre said.

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