WASHINGTON – The federal government said Wednesday that it will extend job retraining benefits to hundreds of contract workers who stand to lose their jobs when Black & Decker’s Easton plant closes this year.
The Labor Department had originally agreed to give retraining assistance only to about 220 Black & Decker workers, but extended that offer this week to more than 400 temporary contract employees.
And more workers could qualify for federal assistance in the next few months, said Patrick Baker, manager for Maryland’s dislocated workers program. That would translate into $1.5 million in retraining for the jobless – money that is sorely needed by the state, which only had $200,000 set aside for unemployment services before Wednesday.
“The plant closing . . . is the largest event going on in the state,” Baker said. “We’re not going to have enough money in state funds to help them.”
As many as 1,300 workers will lose their jobs at the power-tool plant when it closes this year and shifts production to Mexico, a heavy blow for a town of about 11,700.
With the retraining money, Baker said the state will receive federal funds that will provide up to 78 additional weeks of benefits for workers who exhaust their standard 26 weeks of unemployment insurance. He could not put a price tag on that aid, but said state officials have requested $3.5 million more in national emergency grant money.
The retraining program covers 78 weeks of training for laid-off workers and up to $2,500 for job search expenses and relocation costs.
“For the workers, there’s relocation and there’s retraining,” Baker said.
He suggested that the Black & Decker workers consider training and looking for jobs in the building trades, like welding or equipment operations, or even in health care, a growing need in the area.
State workers will start explaining the new unemployment benefits to the plant’s workers Friday. Because of the large numbers of expected layoffs, the orientation could take all next week.
“We’re breaking them down into groups of 40, and we’re going to be out there talking from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.,” said Dan McDermott, director of Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, which is in charge of the effort.
McDermott estimates that dealing with fallout from the layoffs could take the next two years and the attention of 25 full-time staff workers at the board.
“We’ve been planning for this since November,” McDermott said. “I’ve worked here 13 years and this is three times bigger than anything we’ve dealt with before.”