Worker retraining
5:30 am
Mon August 1, 2011

Tacoma workers laid off in 'Nalley Valley' getting federal help

More than two-hundred workers who lost their jobs when the "Nalley Valley" canning plant in Tacoma closed last month are now eligible for special retraining through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.

The newly unemployed, consider it a victory.

At one point Nalley’s Fine Foods canned so many different products that the industrial neighborhood in central Tacoma was called the Nalley Valley. At its peak, the canning operation employed 700 workers and the facilities spread over 26 acres.

Over the years the plant has changed hands numerous times. Its last owner was New Jersey’s  Pinnacle Foods Group. But after 93 years, the plant finally shutdown leaving more than 200 employees out of work.

'Like a death'

Fifty seven-year-old Gwen Crittendon is one of those employees. She’s worked at the plant since she graduated high school 37 years ago. At the time, she made $2.11 an hour. By the time she got her pink slip, she'd joined Teamsters Local 117 and was making $18.50 an hour.

She says, getting the news that plant was shutting down was "like a death."

But the news is not all gloom and doom.

The US Labor Department decided that the jobs at the canning plant were eliminated due to international trade - a jump in imports of similar products led to the shutdown of the plant which canned specialty soups.

79-percent success rate

That means Crittendon and her fellow workers qualify for the TAA program. It’s made up of personalized, retraining  and re-employment services  paid for by the government and run by Washington’s WorkSource offices.

"We can get them involved in community college programs. Even help with finding that job once they do qualify and are trained for something new, and actually this program allows some relocation expenses to be covered too," Rick Van Cise, a spokesman for Employment Securities which administers the WorkSource program.

WorkSource reports a 79-percent success rate in finding employees new jobs and wage recovery.

Right now, a lot of those jobs are in the health field says Kendrick Stewart of WorkSource’s Pierce County office. He said that's because "we’re kind of like the hub for the area when it comes to healthcare, we have a lot of providers."

Timing is everything

But even this, most in-demand field has had lay-offs in recent weeks. That’s why timing is everything said Stewart. Especially when people choose to go into long-term training programs.

There's a concern that by the time a worker has completed a re-training program, which takes an average of two years according to the WorkSource office, there will no longer be a need for workers in their chosen industry.

Stewart said,

"That's why the counselors [who work one-on-one with job seekers] make sure that they're doing the research and due diligence. To make sure that the training that they're actually approving is one that is in demand. So they wouldn’t  approve a person to get into a training that’s a year long that happens to be in a declining field."

As for Crittendon, there's no concrete plan but she remains optimistic.

"I like working with people so I’m thinking that I might try to look into something like maybe counseling or something like that," she said.

She also says 57 is great age to go back to school.