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Hanford Firm Wins Appeal To Keep State From Paying Jobless

Westinghouse Hanford Co. has won an appeal to prevent the state from paying unemployment benefits to many workers who participated in a voluntary workforce reduction.

The case means the state will deny unemployment benefits to at least 223 former Westinghouse employees who voluntarily quit, and could force them to pay back the benefits they have received. An additional 65 former employees could be similarly affected.

The ruling also could prevent current Hanford employees who participate in voluntary reductions from applying for benefits in the future.

Former Westinghouse employee Patrick Thompson lost the appeals case June 16 before a judge in the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings. He has appealed the case to Thurston County Superior Court.

Westinghouse says taxes on unemployment benefits from voluntary reductions-in-force could cost the company an extra $14 million over six years - money that would come out of federal appropriations for cleaning up radioactive wastes at the nuclear reservation in south-central Washington.

At Hanford, 543 people voluntarily quit at Westinghouse and its subcontractors after federal budget cuts resulted in significant reductions in the work force. Many of those people applied for unemployment benefits, which the state Employment Security Department granted.

The contractors pay unemployment taxes to cover those benefits.

Westinghouse originally appealed 288 cases of benefit payments. After the ruling in Thompson’s case, the state determined it applied to 222 other former Westinghouse employees, and it mailed notices denying their benefits. That means they are supposed to pay back the benefits, which ranged in size from $175 to about $6,500, although they can apply for waivers to avoid paying back the money.

Sixty-five cases are pending and have been appealed to a higher level after Westinghouse lost them before administrative judges.

The company has argued it would have to pay $3 in extra taxes for every $1 paid in unemployment benefits.

Westinghouse also contended it gave people participating in the voluntary reduction generous severance packages, including up to 26 weeks of severance pay, a one-time cash payment, extended medical benefits and financial assistance for education and relocation.

xxxx The ruling State will deny unemployment benefits to at least 223 former Westinghouse employees who voluntarily quit



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