An administrative judge has ruled that Westinghouse Electric Co. did not violate an agreement to lay off workers by seniority when it let go some senior employees and retained younger ones in similar jobs.
The younger workers, the company said, had different qualifications because they had special security clearences -- to work on what company insiders call "dark world" jobs. But a union representing salaried workers claimed a clearence was not enough of a reason to keep a younger worker over a more-senior one.
The decision, by Judge James L. Rose, was released Wednesday.
Barnett Q. Brooks, a lawyer for Westinghouse, said last night that the company was pleased with the decision: "We knew we had not violated the law. This ruling confirms that."
Neither union officials nor representatives for the National Labor Relations Board -- which supported the union's charges -- could be reached for comment last night. Mr. Brooks noted that either group could appeal the decision.
According to documents in the case, the dispute started in late 1991, when Westinghouse laid off 1,200 Baltimore-area workers.
Under a contract with the Salaried Employees Association, laid-off workers were allowed to "bump" less-senior workers in their field -- that is, take the jobs of those younger employees.
But many of the junior workers were assigned to "spook projects" that required "special access clearance," or SAC, a kind of security rating that requires an additional clearence check for every job -- even for senior workers already with "top secret" clearances.
And the company refused to let senior employees without SAC "bump" younger workers who had the clearance. Twelve employees -- laid off in 1991 and 1992 -- were not allowed to bump.
The union, and then the NLRB, charged Westinghouse was protecting favored younger employees by picking them for "dark world" projects -- and letting them get clearence. According to the NLRB, the company wanted to retain younger workers because it would be more costly to let older employees stay and obtain clearence.
The special access clearance could have been obtained in as little as four weeks, the union and NLRB claimed. But the company -- which called the special clearance a bona fide job qualification -- said the clearance could take up to two years to get. Westinghouse couldn't afford to delay work while workers waited for clearance, the company said.
And the judge agreed with Westinghouse.
"Surely, having the appropriate security clearance must be considered a job requirement, for one could scarcely bump into a job he could not do," the judge wrote in his opinion.