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Millworkers await TAA announcement

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Certification would provide expanded unemployment benefits and retraining opportunities


Although the closure of the Newberg paper mill is permanent, there is still no word on whether former millworkers will be eligible for benefits through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. But a decision may be near.

Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW), filed the petition on behalf of the laid off workers, citing two factors.GARY ALLEN - Quiet - Activity at the WestRock paper mill in Newberg has nearly ground to a halt as the fate of the aging facility remains to be seen.

“The paper industry faces significant global competition from Canada and China and other foreign manufacturers,” he wrote. “The U.S. is the top importer of Canadian converted paper products, such as those produced by WestRock in Newberg, Oregon.”

The petition also states that “the U.S. export market for the products manufactured at the WestRock Newberg, Oregon mill has decreased significantly due to unfair foreign competitors from Canada and China and other foreign manufacturers.”

Although the petition was filed more than three months ago, no decision has been issued. A response was traditionally expected within 40 days, Pallesen said Monday, but of late the waiting time has averaged 100 days or longer.

The delay is partially due to the U.S. Department of Labor being inundated with trade act certification petitions due to a change that was approved in June: although years ago TAA petitions could be filed based on jobs being lost through companies shifting operations to any other country, in 2002 a requirement was passed by Congress that limited approval of petitions to cases when operations were shifted to Canada and Mexico.

When President Obama reauthorized the Trade Promotion Authority legislation in June, part of the act removed that requirement for TAA petitions, thus opening them up to many more cases where companies moved operations overseas to countries other than Canada or Mexico. The reauthorization also allowed a number of petitions to be resubmitted and considered under the new rules.

The WestRock plant in Ohio that was indefinitely idled and later permanently closed has also filed for TAA certification. The petition was submitted Nov. 10, and last Friday the petition was updated to read, “A determination is expected to be announced within seven business days.”

Pallesen submitted the Newberg petition 10 days earlier than the Ohio plant, but said they were likely processed around the same time. So far the Newberg petition status is still listed as “investigation in process,” but he remains confident the petition will be approved.

The DOL website lists the status of each petition and petitions can be searched at www.doleta.gov/tradeact/taa/taa_search.cfm. The site is updated each Friday, Pallesen said.

In recent out-of-country WestRock news, a few days before the company announced the indefinite idling of the Newberg mill in October, it announced a merger in Mexico in which it would combine three WestRock facilities with Grupo Gondi, a Mexico-based manufacturer of paper and packaging products.

During a conference call late last month, WestRock CEO Steve Voorhes said the venture would likely be completed during the first half of this year.

“We’ve been looking for a long time for the right opportunity to grow our capabilities in Mexico and I believe that the partnership with Grupo Gondi is the best way for WestRock to grow in Mexico,” he said.

During the same conference call it was announced that the Newberg mill closure was permanent.