Westinghouse Announces Up To 1,200 Layoffs

Associated Press

December 19, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Westinghouse Savannah River Co. plans to lay off up to 1,200 workers by Oct. 1, company spokesman Will Callicott said Thursday.

Westinghouse President Bob Pedde told employees in an e-mail the company that operates at the Savannah River Site near Aiken had formally requested the layoffs, which need Department of Energy approval, Callicott said.

Up to 800 additional workers could be laid off by Oct. 1, 2006, Callicott said, as site projects come to a close at the former nuclear weapons complex.

Westinghouse is involved in the cleanup of waste left behind from nuclear weapons production during the Cold War as well as environmental management and waste solidification at SRS.

"It is the result of a fairly lengthy analysis of the business and where we're going," Callicott said. "Also, it's the reflection that there is a lot of project work that is getting successfully completed."

The layoffs will cover a broad spectrum of employees including senior management level, Callicott said.

In October, the company had 10,225 employees at the site.

"There is no ideal timing," Pedde said in an e-mail to employees. "In fact, the holiday season could be seen as the worst possible timing. However, I think we owe you the information we have."

Westinghouse has warned more layoffs were coming. Pedde said the company had been evaluating the work force needs.

In the e-mail, Pedde used an example of one area of the site that once supported about 800 workers but is on its way to achieving deactivation in 2006. He said all plutonium has been removed from the F Canyon facility.

Pedde also noted a project packaging plutonium is scheduled to end in March and spent fuel has been consolidated to one facility from three.

"We continue to demolish buildings with no identified future mission (over 100 to date), reducing both the risk and the maintenance and support obligations associated with those buildings," he wrote. "And, as we have fewer operations to support, we are obligated to reduce support, infrastructure and overhead functions _ including management."

Gov. Mark Sanford's spokesman Will Folks said the layoffs were disappointing but Sanford would continue to pursue income tax relief and other reforms to improve the state's business climate, create more jobs and strengthen economic clusters.

Earlier this month, Global Containment Systems, a new subsidiary of a leading air-filter maker, announced plans to create 800 jobs and invest $60 million in the next five years after it builds its headquarters near SRS.

Sanford said the announcement furthers the economic cluster in the area. Much of the company's promise of 800 jobs is staked on when the federal government begins construction on a facility that would convert weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear power plants.

But construction of the planned a mixed-oxide fuel facility at SRS, which also would bring hundreds of jobs, has been delayed.

"Obviously while the governor is focused on the big picture of making South Carolina more competitive and creating new jobs, we're hopeful leaders in Washington, like Sen. (Lindsey) Graham will be successful in expanding the mission at SRS," Folks said. "We're hopeful that our leadership in Washington will prevent future job losses,"

Site supporters also want the DOE to build a $4 billion plant at SRS that would make plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons, but a decision has not been made on where, or even if, the agency will build the plant.

Graham's spokesman Kevin Bishop said the senator would issue a statement Friday.

State Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Aiken, called the layoffs "a terrible thing."

"They are a very talented group that works out there," Stewart said. "The whole thing is governed by funding. They're not trying to get rid of people, they just don't have the funds."

But Callicott said it wasn't a "budget-driven exercise."

"These changes will be seen negatively by some," Pedde said. "In reality, they represent significant progress for the site as risk to the environment and fellow workers is eliminated, operational cost for the taxpayer is reduced and the site is made ready for future new missions."