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Constellium loses benefits appeal

A state appeals panel has upheld a labor board's decision to grant unemployment benefits to 609 Constellium workers who participated in a seven-week strike at the Ravenswood plant last summer.

The company had appealed a December ruling by the three-member state Labor Dispute Tribunal granting benefits to the workers at the aluminum rolling mill.

Workforce West Virginia spokeswoman Courtney Sisk confirmed Thursday that the company lost that appeal.

"The West Virginia Unemployment Compensation Board of Review has unanimously affirmed the decision of a three-judge labor dispute panel that ruled claimants are not disqualified from seeking unemployment benefits during last year's labor dispute at Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood," Sisk said in an emailed statement.

Union workers at the Constellium plant went on a nearly seven-week strike from Aug. 5 to Sept. 23 after union leaders balked at the company's proposed changes to union members' health benefit plans.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and U.S. Sens Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., stepped in to help end the strike.

While union workers walked the picket lines, non-union and salary employees continued to work.

Sisk said this was significant because West Virginia law dictates that if there is no work stoppage at a facility, striking workers are still eligible for unemployment benefits.

"Under West Virginia law, that is a determinative factor that must first be considered in arriving at a ruling," Sisk said. "Once a finding is made that there was no significant work stoppage during the period of a labor dispute, all other substantive issues become moot."

A total of 609 workers applied for benefits following the strike and received their benefits last fall. The total payout was not made public.

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 for benefits, so employees could have received six weeks of payments. At up to $424 a week, an individual could receive a maximum total benefit of $2,544.  

Sisk said Workforce West Virginia cannot release details of the case or the decision to the public, so details on the exact payout are unknown.

If all 609 employees received the maximum, that would be a total payout of more than $1.5 million from the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund.  

The fund is financed by a tax on employers. The decision will likely raise Constellium's tax rate in future years.

Sisk could not say how much this would affect Constellium's rate, however.

"We can't estimate at this point what the employer's tax rate will be for 2013," she said. "It will go up based on the claims filed but we can't say how much."

Constellium does have the option to appeal the decision to Kanawha Circuit Court. A company spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at business@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836. 


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