Sept. 27, 2002, 10:46PM

Employees of subsidiaries included in severance deal


Enron has agreed to include 154 laid-off employees of subsidiaries that did not declare bankruptcy in a $2.8 million severance deal reached in August, an attorney said Friday. "We basically believe that they all will be included," said Jim Beldner, attorney for the Enron Employee-Related Issues Committee formed by the bankruptcy court. Enron previously had said only 36 of the former subsidiary employees were eligible to be included, but Beldner said Enron quickly agreed to include the remainder after an Oct. 17 meeting. "Until people stand up and yell, they get treated badly. That's what this is all about," said Damon Silvers, attorney for the AFL-CIO. The labor organization was instrumental in getting Enron employees included in the bankruptcy proceedings. In August Enron agreed to a settlement of $13,500 for each of its 4,000 employees. The employees of the subsidiaries got the same $4,500 severance check as regular Enron employees, but they did not get a subsequent $1,100 issued after bankruptcy. They will now get the $13,500 minus severance money already received. Beldner said packets containing papers that must be signed had been sent out to most of the 154 former employees, with the exception of a handful who had worked at Enron Facilities Services and Enron Construction Management Services.


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Oct. 3, 2002, 10:41PM

Locked-out workers go back to jobs

16-week Texas City impasse ends with new contract, retraining


Employees will head back to work Tuesday after a 16-week lockout ended at Sterling Chemical in Texas City. The 215 employees didn't like the raise they were offered but wanted to return to work because their health insurance had been cut off and at least two employees were forced to sell their homes quickly and move back in with their parents, said Jesse J. Sanchez, business manager of the Texas City Metal Trades Council. The lockout began June 8 after employees turned down the company's "last, best and final offer" and ended on Saturday when employees voted to accept the company's new 19-month contract. The new agreement will give the machinists and electricians a one-time 3.5 percent raise. The remainder of the bargaining unit -- pipefitters, boilermakers, general mechanics, lab technicians, material handlers and operators -- will receive a $1,200 lump sum, said Sanchez. The lump sum represents a bonus of about 2 percent because the employees earn an average of $23.55 an hour, said Sanchez. There's a lot of bitterness over the contract, he said. The plant makes products such as styrene, acrylonitrile and plasticizers. Supervisors and contract workers have been running the plant since the lockout began. Mark Kahil, manager of investor relations and public affairs for Sterling, said he isn't sure how many employees will return because some have found other jobs. It will take several days to bring everyone back because employees must undergo physical examinations and go through reorientation, retraining and requalifying for their positions, Kahil said. There have been a lot of changes during the time they've been out, and the company wants to make sure that employees understand how the new procedures work, he said. As the employees come back and are trained, the contract workers will be let go, said Kahil.


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle

  Oct. 3, 2002, 10:33PM

Bill to limit dead peasant policies ignored to death


WHO could oppose notifying a worker when his company takes out an insurance policy on his life? That's what U.S. Rep. Gene Green thought when he learned how some companies insure the lives of low-level employees without their knowledge or consent. Notification seemed the least a company could do, Green thought, considering that benefits from so-called dead peasant policies do not go to workers' families but to fund executive benefit plans and other business expenses. So when the Democrat from Houston introduced legislation in April requiring employee notification and was able to sign up 52 co-sponsors, including two Republicans, he expected little -- if any -- opposition. But Green ran into a brick wall when the Republican-controlled House didn't schedule a hearing on the bill. Green introduced the bill so his own committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would have jurisdiction. But no meeting has been scheduled by chairman of the committee, U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La.; or chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, Cliff Stearns, R-Fla. As a result, Green's bill died in committee -- for this session, anyway. "In all honesty, the bill got lost in the shuffle," said Ken Johnson, spokesman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee."The committee has been so busy tackling Enron, Martha Stewart, prescription drug coverage for seniors and the national energy policy, we just ran out of time." The staff reviewed the bill and took a neutral position, he said. It wasn't advocated as a must-do, but it wasn't targeted for the trash bin, either. A written statement from Stearns echoed the sentiment: "Given the many important issues we are addressing in the subcommittee, including corporate corruption, tightening up of accounting standards and a comprehensive examination of the information privacy issue, there was not enough time to schedule a hearing on Rep. Green's bill during the current session." Green said he plays basketball with Stearns and will tease him the next time they play about whether the influence of insurance industry lobbyists had anything to do with letting the legislation die. "Sometimes you don't have to come out and oppose a bill," Green said. "You can just ignore it." But the insurance industry hasn't. The American Council of Life Insurers in Washington, D.C., has been running advertisements lauding the importance of "business life insurance" on a D.C. radio station and in Capitol Hill publications such as Roll Call, The Hill and National Journal's Congress Daily. "If Congress destroys business life insurance, will your business have a future?" says one advertisement, which features photos of employees in hard hats and work gloves. The ad doesn't mention corporate-owned life insurance policies, or COLIs as they are known in the insurance industry, but Green said it's sending the message for Congress to leave the practice alone. Life insurance is a crucial component of a business plan, and if Congress makes any changes, it has to recognize the impact on business, said Jack Dolan, spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers based in the capital. Many companies use the funds from the policies to pay for health care for retirees and for other benefit plans. Though the council wouldn't like Congress to force notification, it does support a recent recommendation from a committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners for states to require notice and consent where it isn't already mandated. Green said he'd really like to introduce legislation that would require companies to split the insurance proceeds with families, but he figures the insurance industry would really swing into opposition. So for the time being, Green said he'd be happy to get a bill requiring notification passed. And he's enjoying the fight, vowing to reintroduce the bill when the new Congress meets next year. "If the life insurance industry feels like public notice is a threat, it makes me want to pass the law even more." To voice comments, telephone 713-220-2000 and dial in code 1002. Send e-mail to [email protected].


 Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle