Reluctant references hurting job screeningAs companies...


January 15, 1993|By Kim Clark

Reluctant references hurting job screening

As companies gear up to start hiring again, they'll find it harder than ever to gauge prospective workers' qualifications.

A new survey found that managers are increasingly reluctant to provide references for former employees.

And that is making it more difficult to weed out unacceptable candidates, says the survey by Robert Half International Inc., a New York-based headhunting firm.

Shirley Shank, personnel administrator for Frederick-based Avemco Corp., acknowledges that the reluctance of employers is a problem.

But she can't complain. For more than five years, Avemco managers have refused to comment on a former employee's performance when someone calls for a reference.

"On advice from our attorney . . . I can only verify that they worked here. I can provide no additional information about the person's performance," she said.

Avemco, an aircraft insurer with about 400 employees, isn't hiring right now. But when it does, managers "have to rely on gut feelings," Ms. Shank said. "We have to go by how well the interview goes, their frequency in changing jobs."

And sometimes, the brutal honesty of the applicant.

"We'll ask why they left their prior employment, and people are fairly honest," even when it hurts their chances, she added.

Ex-employee charges Noxell with bias

A black woman who worked at the Noxell Corp. headquarters in Hunt Valley has charged the company with racial discrimination. But the local cosmetics company's executives say the woman is unjustifiably angry that she wasn't promoted.

Sharron D. Hunter, who started as a research engineer for Procter & Gamble Co. in Cincinnati, said that when she transferred to Noxell, she found "her Noxell superiors were hostile to her and treated her differently from white employees," according to a filing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

Then in November 1991, after several white employees were given promotions, Ms. Hunter requested a transfer back to Cincinnati.

But the promised transfer never came through, she said.

And after she had trained her replacement in Hunt Valley, she felt she had to quit because her duties were being taken away from her.

Noxell managers offered her other jobs, but no promotions, so she quit in July 1992.

Noxell Vice President Carroll A. Bodie said the company denies the charges and will fight the suit.

Firms trying to beat high cost of drugs

Drug costs are soaring even faster than other medical costs, employers report, driving efforts to rein them in.

Expenditures on drugs rose an average of 9 percent a year

during the 1980s, reaching $48.5 billion in 1990. By the end of the decade, expenditures are expected to hit $91 billion, says the Wyatt Co., a Washington consulting firm.

While drug expenditures were rising by 120 percent, the prices of other medical goods increased by 93 percent -- greatly outstripping the rate of general inflation, Wyatt found.

But companies are trying to fight back. One common method: encouraging workers to use discount mail order houses, instead of more expensive neighborhood pharmacies, the study found.

At Giant Foods Inc., Vice President of Personnel Winston doCarmo watched one plan's drug costs shoot up 20 percent a year.

Mr. doCarmo took the first step by doubling employees' contributions to $1, and asked employees to buy generic, not brand name drugs, whenever possible.

He did not do more because, he says, the problem is too big for Giant to handle. It is all tied in with the health care crisis, he said.

Caterpillar fights pay for union reps

Caterpillar Inc. is challenging a union's long-standing practice of having companies pay the salaries of union representatives.

In a battle that started in the equipment maker's York, Pa., plant Nov. 16, Caterpillar refused to pay the salary of two full-time union representatives unless they returned to full-time jobs on the factory floor.

But Terry Orndorff, one of the two affected United Auto Workers committeemen, said he and his fellow committeeman refused. They could not adequately represent the 1,500 local workers during their lunch and coffee breaks, he said.

The pair are currently drawing pay from the union, while 27 committeemen at other plants around the country have returned to factory jobs.

The National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the company for its salary cuts.

In a novel legal parry, Caterpillar filed a suit in federal court in Pennsylvania, asking the court to declare the UAW's salary demands a violation of a federal law that bans payments by companies to union representatives.

Labor law experts say the law Caterpillar is banking on has generally been ruled to cover bribes, not salaries. Still, not

everyone is convinced that the union will have an easy victory.

There are laws against unionized companies unilaterally changing the terms of employment if the two sides have not reached an impasse, says University of Maryland law professor Marley Weiss.

But since the two sides have been battling so long that the old contract has expired, the complexities of labor law make the company's claim "tricky and very interesting," he added.

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