Local industry Designation means personnel qualify for retraining and an extension on unemployment benefits
Its a far cry from getting their jobs back, but former workers of the shuttered Newberg paper mill are eligible to receive reemployment and retraining services, a health coverage tax credit and other benefits following the Department of Labors determination last week that foreign trade played a part in the facilitys closure.
Two weeks after SP Fiber Technologies finalized a sale to WestRock Co. in October, the new owner announced it would indefinitely idle the mill due to market conditions. In mid-November a majority of the facilitys more than 200 workers were laid off while the remaining employees worked to prepare the mill for dormancy.
Shortly after the idling announcement the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, the union that represents mill workers, filed a petition for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.
TAA provides certain benefits for workers who have lost their jobs partially due to competition with foreign markets. Established in 1974, the program has helped 2.2 million American workers, according to White House statistics. Its emphasis is on helping laid-off workers retrain into new careers with comparable compensation to what they received at the old job.
A decision on the petition was delayed due to the DOL being inundated with trade act certification petitions since a change approved in June: although years ago TAA petitions could be filed based on jobs being lost through companies shifting operations to any other country, in 2002 a requirement was passed by Congress that limited approval of petitions to cases when operations were shifted to Canada and Mexico.
When President Obama reauthorized the Trade Promotion Authority legislation last June, part of the act removed that requirement for TAA petitions, thus opening them up to many more cases where companies moved operations overseas to countries other than Canada or Mexico. The reauthorization also allowed a number of petitions to be resubmitted and considered under the new rules, hence the new backlog.
In January, WestRock announced the closure was permanent. Last week the DOL released its findings that the mill will be TAA certified.
In making a determination TAA certifying officer Del Min Amy Chen highlighted the fact that imports of the products produced at the mill have increased during the past year compared to the year before that, likely contributing to the layoffs.
AWPPW vice president Greg Pallesen said he was not surprised by the determination, especially since the mill has been certified multiple times in the past. He and other labor representatives have repeatedly linked the mill closure to previous pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, passed in 1994, and the Trans Pacific Partnership which is still under consideration.
The projections are if the TPP passes there will be additional paper mill closures, he said.
Rep. Suzanne Bonamici released a statement on the TAA approval, noting the importance of the program.
Our workers need and deserve this assistance, and todays announcement is a step forward to helping the community, she said, adding that she was in touch with the DOL and asked for a quick review of the TAA petition. Providing this assistance is critical for workers who lose their job through no fault of their own
Workers who want to apply for the program are invited to attend one of several upcoming information sessions.
Sessions will be held on three days at the AWPPW union hall, 2414 Portland Road, Suite C.
They will take place March 22, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., 3 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.; March 23 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.; and March 24 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The Central Trade Act Unit is asking those interested in attending to call no later than 5 p.m. the day before the session to reserve a spot. The CTAU can be reached at 1-877-639-7700.