The 220 workers formerly employed at the Rexam Plant in Hamlet got some unexpected good news Thursday.
The Rexam Plant ceased operations in December. On Thursday the employees of it and four other North Carolina facilities were approved for extra benefits to help with job training, placement, relocation and continued health coverage.
Former Rexam workers will qualify for Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, benefits under the Trade Act of 1974, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
TAA benefits are intended to provide re-employment services and benefits to workers who lost their jobs due to trade agreements made by the United States.
“Workers who become totally or partially separated or are threatened to become separated from employment as a direct result of increased foreign imports or a shift in production to foreign countries that are part to Free Trade Agreements with the United States, are considered primarily affected workers and may be eligible for TAA,” the North Carolina Employment Security Commission (ESC) Web site explains. “Secondarily affected workers may be eligible for TAA. These are workers whose employment is affected because they worked with a firm who either produced and supplied component parts or performed final assembly or finishing for articles produced by a firm where the group of workers were certified for TAA benefits.”
ESC Rockingham Local Office Manager Mike Railton said this is not the first company in the county to be approved for the benefits.
“UCO and Sara Lee were major employers in the county whose employees qualified for these benefits in the past few years,” Railton explained.
According to the Department of Labor release, workers who qualify will be contacted by the state with instructions on how to apply for individual benefits and services.
Railton said the ESC will be in touch with those who qualify as soon as they get the names from Rexam Americas.
“The ESC will be working hard to obtain a list of workers who are potentially eligible for TAA benefits,” he said.
Rexam Spokesman Greg Brooke said Thursday he was personally unaware of the designation, but that type of information would usually go through the corporation’s human resources department.
“I’m sure our people managing the transition are working this out with the appropriate authorities,” he said.
On May 28, Brooke said the level of production would be scaled back at the plant, and multiple lay-offs would come in phases.
Hamlet Mayor Jeff Smart and Richmond County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Robinette received a letter in June notifying them the company would begin the lay-offs in August.
In a release, Rexam Plastic Packaging Group Director Graham Chipchase said the move would shore up the rest of the company’s operations, which span 20 countries.
Union Chapter President Hortie McLaughlin said it was known among the workers that the corporation would make a choice between two of its American production facilities, and Hamlet ultimately lost out. At the time of the closing, McLaughlin questioned whether the workers would be eligible for any assistance aside from unemployment insurance benefits.
“They are telling us that the machinery is being sent to other plants in the United States, though,” McLaughlin told the Daily Journal the day of the announcement. “So it appears we may not.”
Thursday’s announcement ensures Rexam employees will indeed receive assistance in putting their lives back together.
The other North Carolina plants whose workers qualify for TAA benefits are Volvo Construction Equipment in Arden, Domtar Paper Company in Plymouth, Mitchell Gold Company in Taylorsville and LA-Z-Boy Casegoods in Wilkesboro.
Also in the announcement were firms from 19 other states.
“President Obama and this entire administration are committed to a coordinated federal response that will soften the blow of the current downturn and speed the economic recovery for communities across the country affected by auto industry restructuring and other mass industrial layoffs,” said Dr. Ed Montgomery, executive director of the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers. “Trade Adjustment Assistance is just one tool the federal government is using to help American workers during these tough times.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.