Negotiators for Washington's employers and organized labor agreed over the weekend to terms for an overhaul of the city's unemployment compensation program and the imposition of a new tax to repay a $67 million debt the jobless fund owes to the U.S. treasury.
Wilhelmina Rolark (D-Ward 8), chairwoman of the D.C. City Council's Employment and Economic Development Committee, said last night that the agreement clears the way for early council passage of a bill - stalled since April - to revamp the compensation program.
In reaching the agreement, the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, the city's principal employer organization, reluctantly dropped its demand that all jobless benefits be eliminated for workers who quit jobs voluntarily or are fired for gross misconduct.
Such workers now are disqualified from receiving benefits for five to nine weeks after they leave their jobs. Under the new agreement, such workers would be disqualified for seven to 13 weeks, with the time to be set in each case by the D.C. Unemployment Compensation Board.
The terms of the agreement were disclosed, in separate telephone interviews, by John R. Tydings, executive vice president of the Board of Trade, and Minor Christian, legislative chairman of the Greater Washington Central Labor Council.
They said the agreement includes two others key features:
The cost of making payments to workers who quit their jobs or are fired for gross misconduct will be charged against the total unemployment compensation fund and not against the accounts of individual employers who pay into the fund, as is now the case.
If, after one year, it is found that more money is being paid out in benefits than is being collected in taxes, the level of benefits will be cut for a year by 10 percent.
"We figure this probably would never happen," Christian said, in explaining the latter provision.
Labor and management had reached a tentative agreement on the bill in February, but it fell apart in April, when the council tabled the matter in hopes that the two sides would reach a compromise.
Employers contended the two groups of employes whose benefits they sought to curtail were costing the fund $9 million a year. Unions responded that cutting off of benefits handed an economic weapon to employers.
The cost of the unemployment compensation program is borne completely by employers through taxes on payrolls. The present tax is a flat 2.7 percent on all covered payrolls. The proposed tax will range from 0.1 to 4 percent, depending upon the solvency of the jobless fund and the extent to which each employer's former workers collect from the fund.
In addition, the bill tax of 0.9 percent to repay $67 million the city borrowed from the U.S. Treasury to maintain benefit payments during the recession of the mid-1970s. With the new tax, the sum would be repaid by about 1983.
Tydings, commenting on the agreement, said the Board of Trade "is not elated by the settlement, but we do think it moves toward the key issues of solvency and . . . abuses." Christian said the unions "gave up something, but we didn't give up everything. We think the worker can now survive."