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Workers to get unemployment for Constellium 'standoff'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A three-member labor dispute review panel awarded unemployment compensation benefits Monday to more than 600 workers at Constellium Rolled Products in Ravenswood.

Represented by the United Steelworkers of America, those workers were off the job for seven weeks, beginning Aug. 5. The plant, which sits on the banks of the Ohio River, is a major manufacturer of high-quality aluminum used for airplanes, automobiles and other transportation-related products.

In a secret ballot taken Sept. 20, USW Local 5658 members approved a contract that Constellium had said would be its last offer to the workers.

Courtney S. Sisk, a spokeswoman for WorkForce West Virginia, said "an individual's weekly benefit amount is based on earnings in his base period. The maximum weekly benefit amount is $424. The applicable time period is Aug. 5 to Sept. 23."

After a required one-week "waiting period," Sisk said, each worker should qualify for six weeks of payments, "assuming he/she has filed continued claim forms timely."

Sisk said 609 workers filed for the benefits properly.

The average Constellium worker should get $2,544 under the decision issued by the three-member "labor dispute tribunal," part of the West Virginia Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

The panel ruled that the workers could receive unemployment benefits because there was no official strike during the "standoff" as negotiations between company and union officials for a new five-year contract were ongoing.

Sisk said the panel's "decision is not published and will not be released to the public."

The steelworkers union represents about 700 of the 1,000 workers at the aluminum plant.

Randy Moore, the Steelworkers' subdistrict director in West Virginia, said, "This ruling comes at a good time. It is Christmas. It will help people who went without income for several weeks."

Laura Prisc, communications manager for Constellium in Ravenswood, said the company disagrees with the panel's decision and is reviewing its options.

No local leader at the union's hall in Ravenswood could be reached for comment Monday.

The three-member labor dispute panel held its hearings on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2.

Constellium could appeal the panel's decision to the three-member Board of Review. The appeal could also go to Kanawha County Circuit Court and the state Supreme Court.

The new contract included a $7,500 signing bonus for each worker and a 2.5 percent wage increase for each year of the five-year contract. Constellium workers now make about $19 an hour. The new contract also reduced health-care benefits slightly.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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