RICHMOND, AUG. 31 -- The hiring of Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's niece and three relatives of top aides to the governor has brought complaints from their co-workers in the state's Department of Commerce, a newspaper reported today.

The Richmond News Leader said disgruntled employees of the department, already worried that they may lose their jobs in budget cuts, have dubbed the 120-employee agency the "Department of Nepotism."

"There was no effort from the governor's office on behalf of any of them," said Wilder's press secretary, Laura Dillard.

Alvin D. Whitley, the Commerce Department spokesman, said that although the department director, Milton K. Brown Jr., was aware of the applicants' connections, they were selected by a panel of employees who didn't know about that.

The four, all hired within the last 60 days, are a niece of the governor; two sisters of Richard D. Taylor, Wilder's special assistant for policy; and the husband of Dorthula H. Powell-Woodson, who was chosen by Wilder to be director of the Department of Personnel and Training.

Tracy Nicholson, a daughter of Wilder's sister, Agnes, and Lillian Taylor-Hayes, were hired for two-year minority internships, as part of a program begun in the previous administration.

Nicholson, who has an accounting degree from Hampton University, works as a $25,000-a-year management analyst. She reportedly quit a higher-paying job at Philip Morris USA because she wanted to work for the state, Whitley said.

She is the second Wilder relative to be hired this year. Earlier, Wilder named a nephew, Michael Brown, a son of his late sister, Ruth, to head the state Board of Elections.

Taylor-Hayes, who is paid about $24,000 a year, is working in the department's enforcement division. She has a degree in criminal justice administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Richard Taylor's other sister, Sharon Taylor, and Powell-Woodson's husband, Harvey Woodson, were hired for temporary, hourly-paid jobs at which they can work no more than 1,500 hours, or about eight months, a year, Whitley said.

Dillard said that Nicholson and Brown are the only relatives of the governor on the state payroll, and that as far as she knows, no other relatives of Wilder staffers have been hired since he took office in January.

Some Wilder appointees may have relatives who were working for the state before his election, Dillard said, noting that her sister has worked for the state, as a counselor in an adult group home, for several years, and that the son of chief of staff J.T. Shropshire worked for the State Corporation Commission until he quit recently to go to graduate school.

"There may be someone's cousin out there," Dillard said, "but that's all I know about."