IP workers get extra aid

Published 9:43 am Saturday, December 26, 2009

FRANKLIN—The U.S. Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it has approved Trade Adjustment Assistance benefits to the 1,100 workers who will be affected by the closure of the International Paper Co. paper mill.

“It is wonderful news,” Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said Thursday. “Our congressional delegation has worked very hard for this and I am very appreciative of their efforts.”

The announcement comes just one month after the Labor Department extended TAA benefits — designed to help workers who lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade — to 123 former IP sawmill employees.

“It took six months to get these benefits for the sawmill workers, but it took less than two months to get them for the paper mill workers,” Councill said. “The benefits are by no means a windfall, but they will help tremendously and are an extension of the benefits the mill workers rightly deserve.”

TAA offers a variety of benefits and services, including job retraining, income support while enrolled full time in a training program, job search and relocation allowances, and a tax credit to help offset the cost of health insurance. The program also provides wage supplements to certain re-employed, trade-affected workers age 50 and older.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, D-Va., made a joint statement Wednesday announcing the news.

“This is timely and welcome news for more than a thousand families across southeastern Virginia, and I appreciate the Labor Department’s efforts to issue this certification as quickly as possible,” Warner said. “This assistance can be a lifeline to these workers who simply need some temporary help as they transition to new jobs in a tough economy.”

Webb concurred, adding, “It is a great relief that the Department of Labor today has granted necessary adjustment assistance to International Paper’s displaced workers in time for the holidays and before IP completes its plant closure next spring. Trade Adjustment Assistance will help these workers make the difficult transition to new jobs at a time when Virginia’s manufacturing industry faces hard times.”

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., another proponent of extending TAA benefits to the paper mill workers, also praised the decision Wednesday.

“The closing of the IP paper mill has been devastating to the surrounding communities,” Forbes said. “Especially as these families face a holiday season marked with anxiety at the future, I am pleased that the Department of Labor has moved forward in approving this assistance. I will continue to work for these workers and these communities as we move into the New Year.”

The company plans to close the paper mill by spring.

Councill said the first phone call he made Wednesday after learning of the benefits being extended to paper mill employees was to Carroll Story, president of Local 1488 of the United Steelworkers of America, to tell him the news.

“He said ‘Jim, that’s the best Christmas present,’” Councill said.