Originally created 05/04/04

SRS layoff plans go on hold



AIKEN - The company that runs Savannah River Site will release fewer than half of the 300 workers whose layoffs it had asked the Department of Energy to approve and has abandoned further layoff plans until after this fiscal year, officials announced Monday.

Also on Monday, Westinghouse Savannah River Co. started releasing employees who have volunteered to leave the site in place of workers who would have been laid off, company spokesman Will Callicott said.

The DOE had been reviewing the demographic makeup of the workers Westinghouse wanted to release, including race, salary and position, since before the week of March 22, when the company first planned to start layoffs.

Westinghouse President Bob Pedde told employees in an e-mail Monday that the DOE had approved the release of 140 employees who volunteered to leave. The layoffs will continue throughout the week.

"Because of the disruption to you that this lengthy process has caused, we have decided not to pursue this workforce restructuring proposal any further in FY04," Mr. Pedde wrote. "Certainly, this has been a long process, and we will continue to talk with DOE on how we can more quickly reach agreement on future restructuring requests."

The company says layoffs are needed because work at the nuclear weapons plant is changing, leaving Westinghouse with unneeded employees. Mr. Callicott said it was "very probable" that the company would request additional layoffs in fiscal year 2005, which begins in October.

DOE officials would not say why more of the company's layoff requests weren't approved. Mr. Callicott said attorneys for Westinghouse and the DOE had "different interpretations" of legal issues relevant to work force restructuring.

Political leaders also tried to influence the DOE's decision.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford was "personally involved" in the process, his spokesman Will Folks said.

SRS boosters said the DOE's decision was good news, as long as the federal agency is willing to pay Westinghouse employees. The company is trying to address a $51 million budget shortfall and has already released landscaping and janitorial subcontractors.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.

Voluntary layoffs will continue this week, but Westinghouse doesn't plan to pursue more layoffs until October.