The D.C. City Council voted yesterday to sidetrack a proposed overhaul of the city's troubled unemployment compensation program, disappointing organized labor and leaving the measure's fate in doubt.
The vote was 8 to 5. It followed intensive lobbying both by the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, which is continuing to hold out for restrictions in payments to some jobless workers, and organized labor, which opposes the restrictions.
The buisness group lost an earlier round in the dispute last month when the council, in a preliminary vote, dropped the restrictions from the bill. The restrictions would have ended payments to workers who quit jobs voluntarily without good reason or those fired for gross misconduct.
Labor leaders, with the support of Mayor Walter E. Washington's administration, fought the restrictions, depicting them as weapons that could be used against union workers.
Yesterday's vote gave the Board of Trade more time to advance its arguments, or it could produce a compromise. Procedurally, the measure could be revived and perhaps amended at the next council meeting May 29.
The business group's proposals were not even mentioned during yesterday's debate. Council member Arrington Dixon (D-Ward 4), a candidate for council chairman in the primary election Sept. 12, said a new report by D.C. Auditor Matthew S. Watson raised issues that should be considered in detail before the measure is enacted.
While mainly factual, Watson's report generally supports the pending bill in its present form.
Council member Douglas E. Moore (D-At Large), a rival of Dixon in the race for council chairman, said the pending bill evoked "the most extensive lobbying on any issue since I've been on the council . . . What he (Dixon) says is he wants to duck the issue." Dixon later denied Moore's assertion.
Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), who chairs the council's employment and economic development committee and chief sponsor of the bill, pleaded for passage, saying the sidetracking would be "a disservice."
Mayor Washington asked for council passage of the bill last September. He said, among other things, that enactment of the bill was necessary to repay about $60 million borrowed from the U.S. Treasury when the city's unemployment compensation fund was drained during the recession of the mid-1970s.
In addition to adjusting the basic tax rates paid by employers into the fund, the measure would have imposed a $15-million-a-year surtax to repay the Treasury loan during the next four to six years.
As its price for support, the Board of Trade demanded an end to payments to those who quit or are fired for gross misconduct. Such payments cost the fund $9 million a year, the board said.
After yesterday's vote, John R. Tydings, executive vice president of the Board of Trade, said he does not support a delay for its own sake.
"But we can't ask the employers to pay more taxes unless there is some adjustment in the outflow of the system," he said.
M. Brent Oldham, chairman of the D.C. Unemployment Compensation Board and a key lieutenant of the mayor, was seething after yesterday's vote, and labor leaders were furious.
"It's going to hurt the working people of the city," said Joseph Curtice, acting president of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, which has promised to support the mayor in his expected campaign for reelection.
In yesterday's vote to table, Dixon was joined by Democrats Polly Shackleton, William R. Spaulding, Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, John A. Wilson, Nadine P. Winter, Marion Barry and Willie J. Hardy.Opposing it were Democrats Rolark, Douglas Moore and David A. Clarke, Republican Jerry A. Moore Jr. and Statehood Party member Hilda Mason.