GM bid to have workers return jobless pay fails; State appeals board rules against automaker; Auto industry


General Motors Corp. has lost another scrimmage with the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation over the payment of unemployment benefits to workers at its Baltimore van assembly plant.

A three-member appeals board of the department ruled yesterday against the automaker's request that workers at its Baltimore plant repay one week in unemployment benefits they received last year.

About 2,900 hourly workers at the plant received unemployment benefits last summer when the factory was closed for 10 weeks as a result of strikes at GM parts plants in Flint, Mich.

As part of the settlement of the Flint strikes, GM agreed to pay workers here and around the country for the one week its assembly plants usually close each year for retooling.

The payment was on top of the $250 each worker here received in unemployment benefits for the same week.

"GM was trying to get its workers here to repay the unemployment benefits," said Henry Belsky, a lawyer representing United Auto Workers Local 239 workers. "They viewed it as double-dipping."

The state saw it differently.

"GM's payment to the workers wasn't considered back pay or retroactive pay," said Karen Napolitano, a spokeswoman for the regulatory agency.

"It was defined as a one-time special payment that came out of a nickel fund. There was no cost to the employer," Napolitano said.

The so-called nickel fund was set up by the company several years ago. GM contributes a nickel to the fund for each hour an employee works overtime. The fund is usually used to retrain workers or for educational programs.

"Chalk this one up as a victory for the working people of Baltimore," said Charles R. Alfred, president of Local 239, which represents the hourly workers at the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari assembly plant on Broening Highway.

GM originally sought to keep the state from making unemployment payments to workers here during the strikes in Michigan.

When workers are laid off, General Motors is billed for a portion of the unemployment benefits paid out by Maryland. Napolitano said the amount varies by size of the company and its record on layoffs.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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