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Hearing on Constellium unemployment benefits canceled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A hearing scheduled today on Constellium's appeal of a ruling that awarded up to $1.5 million in unemployment compensation benefits to workers who went on strike last summer was abruptly canceled on Tuesday.

The hearing was scrapped when both Constellium and the Steelworkers union advised the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review that they chose not to have a hearing or make any oral arguments before the board.

"Instead, they are resting their cases on written briefs previously submitted to the board following the initial decision of the labor dispute panel," said WorkForce spokeswoman Courtney Sisk.

"This means there is no need for a hearing on this matter, as no one will appear to testify," Sisk said.

"The board will meet within the next week to review all briefs submitted, deliberate and reach a decision. That decision, once made, will be given to the parties and made public within 15 days."

The hearing had been scheduled for 10 a.m. today in WorkForce West Virginia's Charleston office at 1321 Plaza East, next to Appalachian Power Park.

Although WorkForce's attorney maintains everything pertaining to the hearing panel thus far is protected by confidentiality, the hearing would have been open to the public.

In December 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 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," Sisk said in December.

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.

Sisk said in December that WorkForce was going ahead and paying benefits to Constellium workers who filed a claim based on the tribunal's decision.

Whatever decision the Board of Review reaches could be appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court.

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

A total of 609 workers applied for benefits. Sisk has said the amount of an individual's weekly benefit is based on earnings in the employee's base pay period. The maximum weekly benefit is $424.

There is a one-week waiting period so employees could have received six weeks of payments at up to $424 a week for a maximum possible total of $2,544 per individual.

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.

West Virginia awarded the strikers benefits but Ohio did not. 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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