25 Jul TOM CONWAY – A Bulwark for Workers
The Goodyear plant in Gadsden, Ala., was always a part of Cindy Beshears’ life.
She attended her grandfather’s retirement party there as a child, worked two summers at the plant as a college student in the 1980s and accepted a full-time job on the production floor in 2004 after leaving a career in retail.
Goodyear devastated the community when it closed the plant two years ago after shifting hundreds of jobs to Mexico, but fortunately, the federal government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program provided Beshears and her co-workers with training and other support that helped them through some of the darkest days they’ll ever know.
While thousands of other American workers continue to be harmed by unfair trade, they’ll be denied the same lifeline unless Congress moves quickly to reestablish TAA.
The program expired June 30 because Republicans refused to join Democrats in extending it. Until Congress reinstates the program, the Labor Department cannot consider any additional petitions for TAA assistance. The United Steelworkers (USW), other unions and Democratic lawmakers such as Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are working to salvage the program, workers’ only real bulwark against the damage inflicted by globalization.
“It’s definitely worth fighting to save,” Beshears said of TAA, created in the 1970s to provide skills-building, employment services and other assistance to workers who lose jobs or wages because of bad trade.
In the 2021 fiscal year alone, the program enrolled more than 107,000 workers in various industries.
“It covers tuition and books. It covers school supplies. It provided a laptop for me. If you have to travel for your classes, it will pay a mileage stipend,” explained Beshears, a former member of USW Local 12L who enrolled in TAA to obtain an associate degree in paralegal studies from Gadsden State Community College.
“It even paid for caps and gowns if we wanted to walk for graduation,” added Beshears, who completed her schooling in May, recalling the pride she felt as her former co-workers also set out on new careers in nursing, child care, welding, transportation and other fields.
“I was very concerned that these people were going to lose hope and that we were going to see a lot of bad things. I would have been one who sat there and wallowed in self-pity, thinking, ‘Oh, I put all that time in, and now I have nothing.’” Beshears said, calling TAA “as valuable mentally and emotionally” as it is educationally.
USW Local 1899 President Dan Simmons would like to see the same opportunities afforded to his members at U.S. Steel’s Granite City, Ill., Works.
The company recently announced plans to cut 900 jobs there, another betrayal of unionized workers by a steelmaker that’s made a habit of shifting work to nonunion plants.
Workers at Granite City have already seen more than their fair share of tough times over the years, including job losses resulting from unfair trade. Those displaced workers qualified for TAA, with many staying in their new jobs even when the company offered to return them to the mill when market conditions stabilized.
Workers affected by the new round of cuts also would be eligible for TAA if the program still existed, said Simmons, noting he’s especially worried about helping longtime members find new careers.
“There’s no other means to do it except TAA,” Simmons said.
When Republicans torpedoed efforts to extend TAA, they not only turned their backs on workers who will need help in the future but slammed the door on those already in the middle of the application process.
Jeff Ogg, president of USW Local 1017, worked with GE Lighting in Logan, Ohio, to file a TAA petition for about 50 workers after the company announced plans to shut the decades-old facility that makes lighting components.
The Logan plant supplied just one facility, a sister plant in Bucyrus, Ohio, that the company also decided to close because of foreign competition. The Labor Department denied the USW members’ petition for TAA, even though their impending job losses directly relate to globalization, and the workers filed an appeal.
Because TAA expired, however, federal officials refuse even to consider it, leaving workers at the Logan plant wondering how and where they’ll get the training they need to move forward.
“I’ve been there pretty much all of my working life,” said Ogg, a mechanic who’s helped to keep the plant running for decades.
“That doesn’t mean I know how to work on anything other than our own machines,” noting he’ll face a learning curve at more modern facilities with computerized equipment. “That’s where the training comes in. I’m going to need a little help.”
TAA’s expiration is doubly tragic because advocates wanted Congress not just to continue the program but expand and strengthen it.
Proposed enhancements included streamlining the petition process, providing a tax credit for child care and covering workers who lose their jobs when foreign countries restrict imports of U.S.-made goods.
Unions also called for extending TAA to public service workers. For example, such a provision would cover municipal road workers, firefighters and others who lose their jobs when illegal dumping of foreign goods forces a local manufacturing plant to close, decimating the community’s tax base.
Next month, as Beshears starts her job as a paralegal with a municipal government near her home, she’ll leverage one more benefit available at the time she enrolled in TAA. She’ll receive $10,000 in income support to help bridge the gap between her new starting salary and the wages she made at Goodyear.
“I’m just so thankful,” she said of TAA. “That’s what I tell everybody I talk to about it.”