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Departing Alcoa workers eligible for federal benefits

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MASSENA — Less than three months after Alcoa announced plans to close its Massena East smelter, there is good news for out-of-work employees who have accepted a buyout from the company.

The U.S. Department of Labor approved a Trade Adjustment Assistance certification for Alcoa employees affected by the closure, which will allow the workers to apply for benefits, U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said Thursday.

“Overall I think this is good news for the employees that have opted to leave Alcoa,” United Steelworkers Local 450-A President David W. LaClair Jr. said. “It gives them a chance to look at another career or other opportunities outside of working at the Alcoa facilities. Back in 2009, when the Massena East facility was curtailed, they applied for trade assistance that was approved. So we had members that had utilized it.”

Mrs. Gillibrand pushed U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to support the employees’ petition for the assistance, citing the large number of workers affected by the closure of the plant’s two potlines.

“This support is incredibly important for Alcoa workers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” Mrs. Gillibrand said in a news release. “When New York jobs get shipped away, our workers deserve every opportunity to keep making ends meet for their families, and get the retraining they need so they have the right skills for the jobs of the new economy.”

TAA is a federal program established under the Trade Act of 1974. Workers whose employment is adversely affected by increased imports and shifts in production outside the U.S. may apply.

The program provides benefits including training for employment in another field and employment assistance, weekly cash payments after unemployment benefits expire, reimbursement for job search expenses and relocation if a worker needs to move to find a job.

Alcoa East had 332 employees, including 254 union employees, in January when plans to close the plant were announced.

Union officials said this month that 74 of their members at the Alcoa East plant had opted for early retirement and an additional 30 had accepted buyouts.

The vast majority of the remaining union employees are expected to transfer to the Alcoa West plant to fill vacancies created by the early retirement of 66 workers at that facility or to stay for demolition work at the former Reynolds plant.

Alcoa also has said it will need approximately 50 workers for 18 to 24 months to dismantle the potlines at the East plant.

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