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Selected items from the pages of the Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram for May 13, 1998. See files

City should stand firm on Anchor Hocking

It's easy to sympathize with the 177 former Anchor Hocking employees who say they're owed $270,000 in back wages for work they did on a $4 million renovation project at their plant in 1979.

Workers on that project, financed with federal dollars obtained by the City of Clarksburg and passed on to the company, say they were entitled to receive prevailing union-scale wages while they worked on the renovation. They didn't.

In 1997, about 18 years after the work was done and seven years after the city asked for an opinion on the matter, the U.S. Department of Labor ruled that the workers were entitled to prevailing wages and indeed, the City of Clarksburg, in its capacity as the federal money passer, is responsible for the back wages.

Now, keep in mind that the Labor Department reached its conclusion in spite of the fact that two federal courts have already ruled in favor of the city on this issue. Those rulings were issued after a group of former Anchor Hocking employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the city in an attempt to recoup the wages.

And on Friday, during a meeting with the Labor Department in Washington, lawyers for Clarksburg were again reminded that the department believes the city is responsible for the wages and were urged to enter negotiations to settle the case once-and-for-all.

Following Friday's meeting, City Attorney John Farmer said the matter would be discussed with members of the city council and that the city would get back with the Department of Labor later this month or in early June.

Again, it's easy to sympathize with the former Anchor Hocking workers on this issue because:

A) They got stiffed by a former employer that didn't pay them appropriate wages back in 1979, and

B) They got stiffed again in November of 1987 when their former employer split town and left a lot of good people out of work and struggling to survive.

Unfortunately though, we must urge the city to stand firm on this issue and refuse to pay the back wages. While we sympathize with the workers, our reasons for encouraging council to act in this matter are quite simple.

1. We believe Anchor Hocking, still a successful glass manufacturer based in Ohio, received the federal money, benefited from the 1979 project, failed to pay the appropriate wages and is therefore responsible for payment. The former workers should be dragging their old employers through the courts -- not the city.

Settling with the workers, we believe, would set a dangerous precedent for the city. Should the city be responsible every time some government contractor or grant recipient stiffs its workers?

2. Union officials representing the Anchor Hocking employees back in the Õ70s had a chance to argue for prevailing wages before they agreed to work on the project. For some reason, they didn't. They allowed their charges to perform the work at a lesser wage. Should Clarksburg taxpayers be penalized for that oversight now?

In the end, we think the former Anchor Hocking employees deserved better than they got from their company -- in regard to the back pay issue and in general. But is it proper now for the city and all of its taxpayers to do penance for the sins of others?

We think not.

William J. Sedivy 

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