Even though there were no Hostess Brands bakeries in Texas, it was confirmed Tuesday that a total of 220 former employees in the state will be eligible, under a federal program, to receive several kinds of assistance available through the Trade Act Assistance Program (TAA). Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, and offered because of a determination that unspecified “foreign imports” contributed to the demise of the 82-year-old baking company, TAA offers retraining, relocation and cash benefits to laid-off workers.
State workforce agencies are charged with contacting workers covered by the TAA certification and with providing instructions on how to apply for various benefits and services, according to the Labor Department.
Qualifying workers can receive training for new occupational skills, along with trade readjustment allowances offering income support during such training. Workers may also receive job search and relocation allowances, and a “Health Coverage Tax Credit.” TAA is open to eligible workers of all ages, but workers who are 50 or older can opt to receive cash benefits instead of retraining.
The formal announcement, made Feb. 19 in Washington, D.C. lists the number of former Hostess employees at 864 locations in 48 states who are eligible to apply for the multi-level assistance. Of the number in Texas, most of the eligible employees were at depots or combination store/depots, but 27 office workers at the company’s Irving headquarters are included in the ranks of eligible workers.
According to the press release:
"As President Obama said in his State of the Union address, 'to grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today's jobs require’," said acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris. "Trade Adjustment Assistance enables workers to pursue training in the skills that today's employers need, contributing not just to a stronger middle class, but to a stronger American economy.
“This TAA certification was based on a Labor Department investigation to determine whether the layoff event met the group eligibility criteria set forth by the Trade Act of 1974. An investigation found that increased imports of baked products contributed importantly to the company's sales declines and worker separations.”
More than 18,000 jobs were affected when the national baking company shuttered operations in November 2012. Under a New York Bankruptcy Court-approved liquidation program, many of its former well-known and nationally-distributed brands, including Twinkies and Wonder Bread, are due to be auctioned to bidders in five separate proceedings scheduled over the next three weeks, with sales to become final by mid-March.
The company closed 33 bakeries and hundreds of distribution centers and retail outlets, as well as eliminating more than 5,500 delivery routes, when it ceased operations Nov 19.
The TAA retraining information is sweet news to some unemployed workers; others, however, still look forward to returning to their familiar positions at newly-reopened facilities under new management following upcoming auction and sales of the company’s assets. And, at least in some quarters, there has been talk of boycotting products which may be produced and sold in plants not employing union workers.
The determination, and its supporting listing of affected numbers of workers, has been heralded in many quarters as a bold step to assure that union workers who lost jobs when the nationwide company shut down operations can find new employment. Sen. Mike Baucus of Montana, who noted that the TAA is slated to run through the end of the year, said he would support an extension of benefits.
Hostess had hundreds of collective bargaining agreements in place with members of 12 different unions. Dissenting views also have surfaced, from those who believe that members of at least one union “negotiated their way out of jobs.”
However, Patrik Johnsson of The Christian Science Monitor last November pointed to tariffs on sugar, and international trade regulations, as public policy issues which need to be addressed. “The impending mass layoffs from 33 Hostess plants scattered around the US, economists say, might force Washington to take a more serious look at how public policy affects the ability of corporations to make money – especially in an economy where even iconic brands like Twinkies and Wonder bread aren’t safe,” he said then.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said in an announcement praising the decision, that the funding “will offer much needed support and job training,” adding that, “This is precisely the kind of investment in local American workers that we need during difficult economic times.”
There is no estimate regarding the potential cost of the TAA program.