Jobs outlook in Md. beats U.S., poll...


Jobs outlook in Md. beats U.S., poll says

Employment prospects in Maryland are brighter than the national average, one pollster finds.

More than a third of Maryland companies surveyed last month planned to hire before the end of 1993, according to a semiannual check of employment plans by Consumer Pulse Inc., a Cleveland-based polling outfit. Only three of the 66 questioned, or 4.5 percent, expected layoffs.

On the national scene, more than a third of the companies surveyed also planned to hire. But 13.5 percent of the companies expected layoffs.

Planned hiring of salespeople was especially strong. Among Maryland sales managers, more than half planned to add staff by the end of 1993. Nationwide, 37 percent of companies planned to add sales staff.

Job prospects in Maryland also remained strong for both office workers and computer experts. About a third of companies in both fields planned to add staff in the second half of the year.

Despite relatively high U.S. unemployment -- 7 percent -- nearly half of the managers nationwide said it is harder to recruit good workers than it was five years ago. Only 28 percent said it was easier.

House of Seagram, union in negotiations

Workers and managers at the House of Seagram plant in Relay, and those in Kentucky and Ohio, are negotiating in an attempt to reach a contract before a Sunday strike deadline.

Ernie Grecco, president of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions, said yesterday that both the Distillery, Wine and Allied Workers union and Montreal-based Seagram's want to avoid a strike.

But in a combined vote on Tuesday, the workers at the three distilleries covered by the contract rejected Seagram's initial proposal. Seagram's has about 400 employees in Relay.

The company has offered workers a wage increase, but sticking points appear to be questions of staffing, Mr. Grecco says.

Company representatives did not return a call for comment.

Low deductibles blamed for health care crisis

J. Kennerly Davis, a vice president of Richmond, Va.-based Dominion Resources Inc., is convinced that he knows the cause of the health care crisis in America: low deductibles.

"If we had auto insurance structured like health insurance, with low deductibles and coverage for routine expenses, we would have an auto maintenance crisis in this country with $50 spark plugs and $100 quarts of oil," he said.

So Mr. Davis, who has a master's degree in economics from Oxford University, decided to try an alternative at his utility holding company.

Although he called in a benefits consultant for help, Mr. Davis says he couldn't find a program as simple and logical as he imagined it could be.

"I wanted to start over, no matter what anybody else had done," he said, and he wanted to stress "fairness and rationality."

So in 1991, he designed an incentive program. It promised any Dominion employee who didn't exceed his or her deductible a share of the savings if the company's health insurance costs came in below budget.

The deductible is the amount workers pay out of their pockets before insurance starts to cover their costs. Dominion self-insures its health plan.

By last year, 75 percent of the company's 175 employees had signed up for a health plan with a high deductible -- $1,500 for an individual and $3,000 for a family -- which saved the company more than $100,000 in 1992.

And in May, Dominion paid out half the savings to employees. One hundred employees got checks -- most for about $800.

Mr. Davis may have started a trend. About 400 businesses have called asking about the incentive program.

But his enthusiasm for the high-deductible incentive isn't shared by everyone.

Jim Norvelle, spokesman for Virginia Power Co., which is Dominion's biggest subsidiary, says the utility isn't interested in pushing health cost risks onto its employees.

The 12,000-worker company views coverage of health costs as a part of the pay package, not as an insurance plan, he says.

Some Virginia Power employees have asked why their employer isn't handing out big checks like the parent company, he says. But complaints are usually quelled when the company explains that Dominion employees bear a large portion of their health costs.

"We have different philosophies" about health benefits, Mr. Norvelle said. "We believe the company ought to bear more risk than the employees."

Layoffs for most firms last resort, survey says

Although they tried to avoid it, nearly 90 percent of large companies laid off workers between January 1990 and April of this year, a survey has found.

Hewitt Associates, a Lincolnshire, Ill.-based management consultant, says that most of the 347 companies it surveyed tried a hiring freeze, transfers or early retirement before laying off.

But most said the economic downturn forced them to go beyond voluntary measures.

Almost all the companies offered at least two weeks' severance pay to laid-off workers; nearly half offered a week's pay for every year of service. Most capped the severance payment at 26 weeks pay, however.

Three-quarters of the companies offered some sort of outplacement help to laid-off workers.

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