CHARLESTON, W.Va. --A three-member state Labor Dispute Tribunal has ruled that workers who struck the Constellium aluminum rolling mill in Ravenswood last summer are eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.
The decision could cost Constellium up to $1.5 million.
Courtney Sisk, a state public information specialist, said the tribunal "found the claimants not disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits" pursuant to state law "because there was not a work stoppage at the employer plant facility as a result of the labor dispute."
"Basically, they are eligible and will receive benefits," she said. "Payments should be processed this week, and claimants should receive their benefit payments within 10 days."
State law allows workers involved in a labor dispute to file a claim for unemployment compensation. Sisk said a total of 609 workers applied for benefits. She said the amount of an individual's weekly benefit is based on earnings in the employee's base pay period. "The maximum weekly benefit amount is $424," she said.
Employees at Constellium struck for seven weeks, from Aug. 5 to Sept. 23.
Sisk said there is a one-week waiting period so employees could receive six weeks of payments at up to $424 a week for a maximum possible total of $2,544 per individual.
The unemployment compensation fund is financed by a tax on employers.
If all of the workers who applied for benefits received the maximum possible, they would receive a total of $1.5 million. Constellium would have to pay and would do so by paying higher unemployment compensation insurance premiums.
The tribunal's decision could be appealed to the three-member Board of Review within eight days.
Constellium spokeswoman Laura Prisc said, "We do not agree with the decision and are considering our options."
Randy Moore, sub-district director for the United Steelworkers in West Virginia, did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said he hadn't had an opportunity to read the decision and "until we know the facts, we won't have much of an opinion.
"We are always concerned about the health of the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund, to have adequate funds available to help those who are in need," Roberts said. "Therefore, these kinds of issues require us to take a close look before we offer an opinion because clearly the funds need to be available for those who are legitimately without work.
"At least in some cases it's been very frustrating when comp awards have been made available to those who choose not to work rather than those who have no work," he said.
The three-member Labor Dispute Tribunal was composed of three administrative law judges employed by the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. The tribunal members are civil service, state employees. Tribunal members were: Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge Truman Sayre, Jr., who presided; and administrative law judges F. Malcolm Vaughan and Gregory Sproles.
The tribunal conducted the hearing on the applications on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.
If an appeal is filed, whatever decision the Board of Review eventually reaches could in turn be appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court.
Unemployment compensation benefits last made news in West Virginia in 2003 after negotiations failed on a new labor contract between Kroger and more than 1,700 employees who worked at 37 stores in West Virginia, five in Ohio and two in Kentucky.
The Kroger employees went on strike on Oct. 13, 2003, and applied for unemployment compensation. A month later, a West Virginia panel ruled that the workers could receive up to $350 a week in benefits. The panel said benefits were justified because Kroger had sent employees home and closed stores before the strike started.
Ohio authorities subsequently ruled that Kroger workers in that state were not eligible for benefits.
Kroger appealed the West Virginia decision to Kanawha Circuit Court and lost.
Contact writer George Hohmann at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.