WorkSource to hold meetings for unemployed mill workers

WorkSource Grays Harbor will host two informational meetings for former Harbor Paper employees regarding a fresh batch of unemployment benefits offered under the federal Trade Act.

Meetings will be held in the SouthShore Mall meeting room Oct. 16 at 10:30 a.m. for workers with last names starting with letters A through L and at 2 p.m. for workers with last names starting with letters M through Z.

Mill workers who were laid off earlier this year will be eligible for job search allowances, relocation assistance, training, trade readjustment allowances and re-employment trade adjustment assistance.

The United States Department of Labor approved a petition to give former Harbor Paper employees Trade Act benefits Sept. 12, more than six months after the company halted operations. Bill Messenger of the Washington State Labor Council called Trade Act benefits the “Cadillac of unemployment benefits” because of the amount of assistance the program provides.

“It’s one of the best things that can happen to you if you’re unlucky enough to lose your job,” Messenger said. “We try really hard to get Trade Act benefits for people because the state system is so stretched.”

But the benefits took longer than normal to acquire, Messenger said. The petition was filed in early June and was approved about three months later. When companies cooperate with the government, petitions are usually processed in about 40 days.

“It doesn’t usually take three months, especially when everyone agrees and everyone is rowing in the same direction,” Messenger said.

Mike Michener, an administrator for WorkSource Grays Harbor, said his organization hopes to get the former mill workers enrolled in the program as soon as possible. Those interested in job retraining will begin taking classes as soon as winter quarter, no later than spring quarter.

“It’s a very complicated program, but it’s a good program,” Michener said. “So we need to get started.”

If the mill re-opens while the former employees are taking classes, they aren’t obligated to return to work at Harbor Paper, Messenger said. As long as they’ve already signed up for Trade Act benefits, they can continue utilizing them.

But there’s no mill re-start in sight, and Harbor Paper is facing significant financial hurdles. Grays Harbor PUD shut off the mill’s electricity Sept. 23 and the City of Hoquiam shut off water Sept. 17. The company owes about $94,000 in unpaid taxes.