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About 150 laid-off Ponderay newsprint workers granted federal assistance

By Fred Willenbrock For The Spokesman-Review

USK, Wash. – About 150 Ponderay Newsprint Company employees laid off this summer were determined to be eligible for special federal benefits granted workers who have lost their jobs partially due to foreign competition.

The U.S. Department of Labor certification regarding eligibility to apply for worker adjustment assistance was granted earlier this month. The application was received July 1 and reviewed by a DOL investigator to determine if Ponderay filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy partially because it lost business to its former owner, which operates newsprint mills in Canada.

The federal funds will be administered by Washington’s WorkSource program, which is notifying employees of orientation meetings to explain benefits and application procedures soon, said Bill Messenger, who works for the Washington State Labor Council and helped prepare the petition.

The investigation began in response to the petition filed on July 1 by the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. The union represented some Ponderay employees, but the benefits are being offered to all employees.

The federal program brings thousands of dollars for training, salaries, medical coverage and relocation for up to two years. It offers much more for a longer period of time than is available from state programs.

At the orientation, the former employees will fill out a request, Messenger said. When it is determined that applicants worked for Ponderay at the right place and right time, they can enroll and be assigned a case manager. Then the process of training or accessing benefits begins.

In their application for help, former workers stated that when Resolute Forest Products, one of the partners in the newsprint mill, severed its relationship, the company took customers and production to its Canadian plants. The move left Ponderay unable to compete.

The labor department investigator stated in his conclusion that he used information in the application and obtained from the company to make the determination.

Resolute, a Canadian company, owns newsprint mills in Canada that supply a large percentage of the newsprint in the United States. It went from managing partner with majority interest to just partner, and then pulled out of any interest in the company last year. The other partners were major U.S. newspaper publishing companies.

“Many pulp and paper mills have been certified lately,” Messenger said.

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