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Cantwell Fights to Secure Retraining Assistance for Yakima Workers

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell Fights to Secure Retraining Assistance for Yakima Workers

Wednesday, August 23,2006

WASHINGTON, DC - Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called on the Department of Labor to reevaluate its decision to exclude 225 Yakima-area mill workers from job retraining assistance through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. The former employees of the Yakima Resources mill in Yakima County had petitioned for retraining assistance following news that the mill would close. Earlier this month, their request was denied. Now, with Cantwell's support, the workers have appealed the decision.

"With many of our state's universities, colleges, and technical schools starting up in a matter of weeks, we need to deliver these workers the retraining assistance they need without any more delays," said Cantwell. "Maintaining a highly-skilled workforce here in the Pacific Northwest is key to keeping our economy strong. We need to do all we can to help our displaced workers get the retraining they need to provide for their families and power our economy forward. The Department of Labor needs to give this petition the thorough examination these workers deserve."

Following the announcement of plans to close the Yakima Resources mill in Yakima County, the Western Council of Industrial Workers, which represents the affected mill workers, petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor on behalf of the workers for help through the TAA program. The TAA program provides retraining and reemployment assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of increased foreign imports. Earlier this month, however, the Labor Department denied the application for retraining assistance, claiming there was insufficient evidence showing that the mill closed due to foreign competition.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Cantwell asked the Labor Department to reexamine the case giving full consideration to all factors involved, including an increase in plywood imports and the importation of plywood substitutes.

[The text of Cantwell's letter follows below]

August 23, 2006

Elaine Chao Secretary U.S. Department of Labor 200 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20210

Re: Request for Administrative Reconsideration of TA-W-59,533 Yakima Resources, Yakima, Washington

Dear Secretary Chao:

I am writing to request the Department of Labor reconsider its negative determination for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to the Yakima Resources, LLC (TA-W-59,533) petition filed by the Western Council of Industrial Workers on June 7, 2006.

According to the Western Council of Industrial Workers, several factors were excluded from the investigation, which may have resulted in an incomplete inquiry and consequently, a negative determination. It is my understanding that the Council has appealed the Department's decision, filed on August 17, 2006. This letter supports the Council's appeal for administrative reconsideration.

In an August 4, 2006 determination, the Department declined the Western Council of Industrial Workers' request for certification of eligibility to apply for worker adjustment assistance because requirements under Section 222 (a)(2)(A) and Section 222 (a)(2)(B) of the Trade Act of 1974 were not satisfied. Specifically, the Department's investigation cited the following criteria as not met:

• "increased imports of articles like or directly competitive with articles produced by such firm or subdivision have contributed importantly to such workers' separation or threat of separation and to the decline in sales or production of such firm or subdivision" [and]

• "there has been a shift in production by such workers' firm or subdivision to a foreign country of articles like or directly competitive with articles which are produced by such firm or subdivision"

Based on the Council's appeal, the investigation omits full review of how foreign imported structural panel products, such as oriented strand board (OSB) impacted the decision by Yakima Resources to close its domestic production facility. OSB consists of wood strands, laid in three or more directionally oriented layers at right angles to each other, like plywood veneers. It is bonded with wax and resins and formed into panels under heat and pressure. OSB is approximately twice as strong as waterboard or equal to engineered plywood. OSB is a foreign plywood substitute imported predominately from Canada, Brazil and Chile.

According to the American Plywood Association (APA), the U.S. dollar value of plywood imports has increased from $25.3 million in 2003 to an estimated $106.9 million in 2006. In addition, the APA estimates that OSB will gain 65 percent of the panel market by 2009. Canadian imports of OSB increased 17 percent and its plywood imports increasing 51 percent overall just within the past year. Should this petition be reconsidered, I request that the increasing use of OSB be measured a condition of "like or similar products" to plywood, adding to greater competition and causing domestic plywood to no longer remain competitive.

In addition, the Western Council of Industrial Workers claim that the investigator misidentified the workers at Yakima Resources as well neglected to respond to the petitioner's request for a public hearing, as authorized under the Trade Act of 1974. The reasons cited in the Council's appeal provide grounds for the Department to reconsider the determination received for Yakima Resources, petition TA-W-59,533. I am extremely concerned about the interpretation of petition TA-W-59,533 adversely impacting these workers' ability to seek adjustment assistance.

A goal of the TAA program is to provide a "comprehensive, timely array of retraining and reemployment services tailored to meet the needs of the individual workers." With many postsecondary education institutions currently enrolling students for the upcoming fall school semester, I urge the Department to not only reconsider its negative decision impacting 225 workers in Washington state, but to re-examine the investigator's interpretation of the information provided in petition TA-W-59,533 judiciously, so that retraining opportunities are not lost for these workers.

Thank you for your prompt attention and full consideration of this request.

Sincerely, Maria Cantwell United States Senator

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