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Constellium appeals unemployment decision

Constellium will appeal a ruling that awarded up to $1.5 million in unemployment compensation benefits to workers who went on strike last summer, a company spokeswoman said.

"We plan to appeal," spokeswoman Laura Prisc said Saturday in an emailed response to a Daily Mail query.

Earlier this month a three-member state Labor Dispute Tribunal ruled that workers who struck Constellium's aluminum rolling mill in Ravenswood are eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.

The Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund is financed by a tax on employers. The tribunal's decision, if unchanged, would probably raise Constellium's tax rate in future years.

Last week Courtney Sisk, a state public information specialist, said, "Even if Constellium appeals this decision, WorkForce West Virginia will pay benefits to Constellium workers who have filed a claim based on the current decision."

Sisk said last Monday that WorkForce was in the process of paying benefits and Constellium workers who filed a claim should receive their benefit payments within 10 days.

Constellium's appeal goes to the three-member Board of Review. It was not immediately clear when the Board will conduct the appellate review hearing.

Whatever decision the board eventually reaches could be appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court.

Employees at Constellium struck for seven weeks, from Aug. 5 to Sept. 23.

Sisk said last week that 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.

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.

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, Sisk said.

Sisk said last Tuesday that the Labor Dispute Tribunal's decision "is not published and will not be released."

The policy "is in effect for all decisions - whether regular Unemployment Insurance decisions or labor dispute decisions," she said. "We only release decisions to the parties - claimants and employers. This policy cannot be appealed but you may file a Freedom of Information Act request which will be subject to legal review."

The Daily Mail filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Tuesday. WorkForce denied it on Friday.

"A federal regulation . . . prohibits the disclosure of the names, or identifying information, of individuals and employers in connection with unemployment compensation benefits or claims," wrote Russell Fry, WorkForce's acting executive director. "This same rule mandates that state laws provide equivalent protections of confidentiality.

"West Virginia code...provides that 'information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute' may not be disclosed under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act," Fry added. "Because of the required confidentiality of unemployment compensation claims, we cannot tell you whether the records that you seek exist, nor could we produce such records for your inspection if they did exist. For this reason, your request is denied as to this type of information."

Prisc, the Constellium spokeswoman, was asked if the company would provide the Daily Mail with a copy of the tribunal's decision. She said the company will not because "the document includes proprietary business information."

Randy Moore, sub-district director for the United Steelworkers in West Virginia, did not return a call last week requesting comment.

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said on Sunday that the chamber won't file an appeal because it might not have standing but might be able to file a brief in support of Constellium.

As for the process, "At a minimum more transparency and clarity would help," Roberts said. "How do employees and employers know what the rules are if decisions are cloaked in secrecy?

"Stable, transparent rules that do not change from one case to another are needed for workers' sake and for employer compliance," Roberts said. "West Virginia is making progress. But our legal climate will improve and everyone will be better served when the rules are clear and decisions are understood by the parties."

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 business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.

 


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