Former chip mill workers may get help

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Shuler Brothers Chip Mill in Opp has ceased operations, and some of the employees may qualify for benefits under the Federal Trade Act of 2002, according to a press release issued by the State of Alabama Department of Industrial Relations.

According to Opp Mayor Jerry Boothe, the majority of the 27 employees were truck drivers.

"Shuler was contracted with International Paper to chip the wood. They also had a contract to truck the chips to the plant in Cantonment," said Boothe. "International Paper converted at the Cantonment plant (in Florida) to 100 percent eucalyptus from Brazil."

Because the paper company is using the fast growing imported trees, they no longer use the slower growing hardwoods grown here. The timber is now barged into Mobile and trucked from there, Boothe said.

The Opp chip mill is not the only one affected. The Dixie Chips mills in Brundidge and Owassa will also close down.

A petition was filed on behalf of the Shuler employees, as well as the Dixie workers, and was certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, which found that the workers may have been displaced because of increased imports, and therefor eligible for certain benefits. Under the Trade Act of 2002, displaced workers may be eligible for subsidized vocational training, job search assistance, relocation allowances, and the Health Coverage Tax Credit.

If workers have exhausted their cash benefits under other state and federal programs, they could, be eligible for additional weekly payments equivalent to the amount they were receiving under those other programs.

In order to receive Trade Readjustment Allowance benefits, workers must be enrolled in training eight weeks after the certification date or 16 weeks after their last qualifying separation.

Workers from the chip mill have also been certified for alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance. Under this program, employees who are 50 years of age or older who obtain full time work within 26 weeks of their separation date may receive a wage subsidy to help bridge the salary gap between their old and new job.

Those who are eligible for the benefits will be notified and given more details on how and where to apply for assistance.

Boothe said he believed those employed at Shuler would be able to find work.

"We (the city) hired one young man from out there," he said. "And there's always work for truck drivers."