State panel to consider BG&E case

December 04, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

A state board will decide -- perhaps as early as next week -- whether Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. employees whose jobs have been eliminated can collect unemployment benefits while they continue to receive wages and benefits from the utility.

The Board of Appeals for the Department of Economic and Employment Development (DEED) yesterday heard arguments from both sides about whether these workers are eligible for unemployment payments.

Under Maryland law, laid-off workers can collect unemployment benefits while receiving severance payments from a company if their jobs have been abolished, according to Thomas W. Keech, chairman of the board of appeals.

But BG&E attorney L. Ellis Justis said workers' claims that they were without jobs were "premature" and that they continue to receive regular wages and benefits.

"Final decisions [on personnel cuts] will not be made until at least Jan. 1," he told the three-person board. BG&E employees countered that they have lost their jobs along with such trappings as desks, computer access and voice mail.

"I consider myself to be unemployed," said Phyllis A. Steiner, a 10-year veteran of BG&E.

Ms. Steiner is one of about 30 BG&E employees who applied for unemployment benefits in the last month, according to John McGucken, legal counsel for the Office of Unemployment Insurance for DEED.

Even though the matter has not been decided, Mr. McGucken said BG&E workers who have been removed from their normal jobs should apply for benefits to protect their eligibility. If the board decides to award benefits, they will be retroactive only to when a worker filed, he said.

Mr. Keech said he hoped the board would rule in a week.

BG&E is implementing a restructuring program that will probably result in the first layoffs in its 177-year history. Unlike layoffs at other companies, BG&E is offering months of job-searching services to displaced workers who continue to receive wages and benefits.

Yesterday BG&E officials argued that these workers do not officially become "displaced" workers until Jan. 1. That is when the clock starts ticking on a four-week period during which employees must decide whether to take a lump-sum severance package or stay in the job search program for a specific period, depending on length of service.

Mr. Justis also said that many of the tentatively displaced workers may be called back after the company determines how many of the 1,400 employees eligible for early retirement take the offer. The deadline for that choice is Dec. 15.

"We expect most of these people to come back, and we want them," Mr. Justis said.

That point was disputed by Ms. Steiner, who worked in BG&E's '' information systems department. She testified that company officials have told her and other workers that they could apply for job openings in the company, but never held out the likelihood of being called back.

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