CNG stock shoots up amid merger rumors
by Julie R. Cryser

    A spokesman at the Pittsburgh-based Consolidated Natural Gas Co. would not comment Friday on recent rumors that the company is about to be sold or merged, nor would he comment on why the company's stock has been traded so heavily within the last several days.
    The natural gas company's stock closed Friday at 56 1/2 points per share, up 3 3/4 from Thursday. At the beginning of February the company's stock was trading at about 49 3/8.
    The volume of trading of the company's stock has nearly doubled from the beginning of the month during a time when similar natural gas stocks have remained steady. The number of shares traded Friday hit 811,600, up from an average of about 350,000.
    "The stock has been really weak until here recently," according to a Charleston securities analyst. "I don't know if there's anything going on out there, but it's done pretty well."
    That sums it up. Nobody is certain what's going on with the natural gas distribution company, which has refused to discuss why its stock has suddenly become so strong. Rumors sometimes fuel stock trading. Often times, however, they are followed up by actual sales.
    Analysts in Charleston and company employees in Clarksburg, where the company employs between 500 and 600 people through CNG Transmission and Hope Gas, said Friday that a sale or perhaps a merger may be imminent.
    Postings on the Internet's Yahoo business page have also run rampant with discussions about what might be coming down the pike. Employees reported Friday that the company is printing a letter in Pittsburgh that will be distributed to its employees on Monday.
    It has also been reported that the company will hold a press conference in Pittsburgh on Monday to announce its sale to Dominion Resources Inc., a Virginia-based firm. CNG officials in Pittsburgh would not confirm that a press conference will be held. "We never comment on rumors," a company spokesman in Pittsburgh said. Robert Fulton, a CNG Transmission Co. spokesman in Clarksburg, said he has heard nothing from the company about a pending sale.
    Dominion Resources is a holding company that offers electric power, natural gas development and financial services with operations in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia and Peru.
    The company, headquartered in Richmond, has three subsidiaries with a total of $18 billion in assets and more than 11,000 employees, according to the company's web page. Dominion's stock, listed as D on the New York Stock Exchange, was steady Friday, opening the day at 43 11/16 and closing the same.
    Several messages were left for a spokesman with Dominion Resources Friday but he did not return any telephone calls. Local economic development officials said they had only heard rumors of a pending sale.
    Rumors have circulated for years that CNG plans to move its Clarksburg offices to Pittsburgh and a recent announcement of a reorganization that would bring all five of CNG's subsidiaries  (including Clarksburg-based CNG Transmission and Hope Gas) under one management team sparked renewed fears.
    Through the reorganization effort, CNG plans to lay off 5 percent of its 5,200 of its employees system-wide, enabling it to become a leaner and more efficient company. CNG operates in Ohio, Pennsylvania,  Virginia, West Virginia and New York.
Company officials assured Clarksburg residents in December that the company was not moving out of the city, saying the company is "alive and well in Clarksburg."
    CNG as a whole, however, hasn't been all that healthy. Although the company recently announced company records for both reserve additions and production for 1998, it also reported that income from continuing operations had fallen from $318.9 million in 1997 to $287.7 million in 1998.
    "Results for the quarter and all of 1998 were hurt by the negative impacts of significantly warmer weather in the service territories of CNG's local gas distribution companies and lower oil and natural gas wellhead prices caused by a slump in those markets," according to a company press release.

Labor seeks renewed
strength in Legislature
by Troy Graham

    CHARLESTON- In 1995, delegates and senators aligned with organized labor, once a formidable force in West Virginia politics, suffered a bitter and stunning defeat when new Workers' Compensation legislation passed.
    Labor vehemently opposed the bill, designed to erase a $2.2 billion deficit in the fund for injured workers. It was feared that the bill would reduce the deficit by denying benefits to workers.
    "We thought we had enough influence to force a deal on Senate Bill 250 and we didn't. Then we thought we had enough votes to stop it and we didn't," said Delegate Larry Linch, a union business manager in Bridgeport. "It caused us to reassess our position."
    The repercussions were endless. The passage of the bill fractured the Democratic Party and, Linch believes, contributed to the defeat of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlotte Pritt. Labor, angry over the vote, also refused to endorse many candidates it had previously backed. "We thought they were our friends, but when it came to the really tough, difficult vote, they left us," said Linch, D-Harrison.
    Four years later, labor is trying to mend the bridges that were broken over that vote. A labor caucus has been formed in the House that gathers delegates endorsed by labor for weekly meetings.
    Describing the caucus as part of the "evolutionary process that labor is in," Linch said the meetings are designed to "bury the so-called bloody hatchet of workers' comp" and strengthen labor's position against a repeat of the 1995 vote.
    Labor representatives are determined to show their influence and be recognized as a force in Charleston again, Linch said.
"We're unions and so we decided to organize," he said. "People will have no question in their minds what our positions are when they vote."
    The caucus got its start last year when Linch spontaneously announced a labor meeting on the floor of the House, said AFL-CIO President Jim Bowen. Although nothing had been previously arranged, delegates showed up for what was effectively a pseudo-caucus, he said. Out of that event came the encouragement to form this year's caucus, Bowen said.
All 49 AFL-CIO endorsed delegates are invited to the meetings. The first meeting brought out 44 of those delegates, Linch said. "It's just a signal that we want to communicate," Bowen said. "It helps correct the fiasco of 1995."
   The formation of the caucus comes during a year when the Legislature is reforming the 1995 workers' comp law. Last week a deal was announced between labor officials and business leaders on the form the new law should take. The deal was agreed upon by the Compensation Programs Performance Council, a body made up of labor and business officials appointed by the governor.
    Neither business nor labor declared victory, but the bill, if it passes, will restore some of the benefits injured workers lost with the 1995 law. "It's a reasonable deal," Bowen said. "It's a minor step in the right direction."
    The new worker's comp bill, coupled with a labor movement strengthened by the caucuses, may signal a comeback for labor. "With the attendance at the two meetings, it seems to be very positive," Linch said. 'It's a better vehicle to get our viewpoint across. Before the only vehicle we had was the various speeches we made on the House floor, and by then it was too late."
    Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, who works for the United Mine Workers in Fairmont, said he was inspired to run for office in 1996 after the workers' comp vote. He sees labor emerging from that defeat as well. "Labor is getting stronger down here and it'll continue to get stronger," he said.
    "I believe every day we're gaining stature in the legislative process," Bowen said. "We're showing that labor people are a lot more reasonable than they thought but, at the same time, we're not afraid of a fight."


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