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No date set for Constellium appeal hearing

The Unemployment Compensation Board of Review has not yet set a date to hear 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.

Andrea Bond, a spokeswoman for the state, said the Board of Review has eight days to set the date for the hearing.

"In a labor dispute situation, the board must render a decision within 14 days after the date of the hearing," Bond said. The hearing will be open to the public, she said.

Bond said that according to state law, the appeal is not a public document. Constellium spokeswoman Laura Prisc declined to provide a copy of the document.

Prisc said on Saturday that Constellium would appeal a Labor Dispute Tribunal's decision, which determined that workers who struck the company'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 on Dec. 17 that WorkForce was in the process of paying benefits and Constellium workers who filed a claim should receive their benefit payments within 10 days.

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.

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."

A total of 609 workers applied for benefits. Sisk 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.

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 on Dec. 18 that the Labor Dispute Tribunal's decision was not published and would not be released. WorkForce West Virginia denied a Freedom of Information Act request for the decision.

"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."

Prisc, the Constellium spokeswoman, also declined to provide a copy of the tribunal's decision.

She said 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?"

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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