Down to Business: Help is out there once job moves away

As many petitions have been certified so far this year — seven — as in all of 2011 to provide assist

Tired yet of all the headlines and debate about job “outsourcing”? If not, chew on this:

As many petitions have been certified so far this year — seven — as in all of 2011 to provide assistance to local workers whose jobs have been sent abroad.

To be sure, we’re talking about just a handful of Capital Region companies laying off employees and moving work overseas. But the number shows that outsourcing, also called offshoring, isn’t merely a 1990s cost-containment strategy that has resurfaced as a cudgel in the Romney and Obama presidential campaigns.

Indeed, the practice is as current as Albany International Corp. shifting production of corrugator belts to a plant in Mexico, shutting down a Menands manufacturing line in January and laying off 28 workers. Or WellPoint Inc., parent of Empire BlueCross BlueShield, planning to close a call center at Corporate Woods in Albany by year’s end — laying off 72 — because an outside vendor has been hired and will do the work from India.

In all, the shifts — including outsourcing at three other Albany-area WellPoint offices, at LexisNexis in Albany and at GlaxoSmithKline in Greene County — will affect a couple hundred workers. But thanks to the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program, all will be eligible for help to get back on their feet.

That’s where the certified petitions enter the picture.

When a company cuts workers or reduces their pay or hours due to the impact of imports, or if work once done domestically is moved overseas, a petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance can be filed with the U.S. Department of Labor by the affected workers, their employer, their union or a state labor official. An investigator will weigh data collected in the case against qualifying criteria, then decide whether to certify the workers for TAA benefits, which can include skills retraining, income support, job search and moving allowances and help with health insurance premiums.

Workers apply individually for the benefits through a state Labor Department workforce program — in New York, a One-Stop Career Center.

The program, which dates to 1974, has been amended a couple of times, with the most recent changes expanding coverage to service-sector workers and adding to the list of countries on the receiving end of the outsourced jobs.

Nationally, 1,115 petitions were certified under TAA in fiscal 2011, covering more than 98,000 workers. Those totals included 8,900 workers in New York.

Locally, the seven petitions filed and certified this year through July 3 match the total for all of 2011, according to a searchable online database maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. In 2010, three local petitions were filed and certified; in 2009, six petitions were filed, but one was denied and one was withdrawn before a decision was rendered.

“They think they’re done,” local One-Stop staff report hearing from TAA-certified workers whose jobs have gone overseas, said Leo Rosales, spokesman for the state Labor Department. The program, though, becomes “a life-saver” because it gives them “an opportunity to transition to new jobs and emerging sectors of the economy.” Rosales said the Capital Region One-Stop centers worked with 27 TAA beneficiaries last year, 38 in 2010 and 99 in 2009.

On a statewide average, 64 percent of TAA-certified workers found new jobs within six months of completing the program, close to the national rate of 66 percent but slightly lower than in neighboring Massachusetts (73 percent), Vermont (81 percent) and Pennsylvania (78 percent).

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