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Feds release training funds for Hershey workers

OAKDALE -- In a sudden reversal, the Department of Labor announced Friday that workers who are being laid off from the Hershey Co. plant here are eligible to receive thousands of dollars in aid from the federal Trade Adjustment Act.

The act was set up to help workers who lose their jobs because their company moves production out of the United States. It provides up to $10,000 for each qualified worker to help with job retraining, living expenses and other services.

The announcement follows two previous denials from the Department of Labor, and came as welcome news to those who had followed the application closely.

“The greatest thing is that it opens up additional funding for training. Many of these people have worked at Hershey in production for 25, 30 or 40 years and have no other skills. They can now try to qualify for updated skills, such as computers or the medical field,” said Don Wilson of Teamsters Local 386, which represents Hershey workers.

Hershey is closing the Oakdale plant, along with five others in the U.S. and Canada, and cutting more than 3,000 workers in the two countries. It is shifting much of its chocolate production to a new plant in Mexico, scheduled to open later this year.

Shortly after Hershey made the closure announcement in April, Stanislaus County officials applied for money from the federal Trade Adjustment Act. They were denied twice on the basis that Hershey hadn’t actually started manufacturing chocolate in Mexico.

Jeff Rowe, director of the county Alliance Worknet, appealed the decisions by demonstrating that Hershey was shipping equipment directly from Oakdale to Mexico. Rowe applied for the funding on behalf of the plant’s 575 workers.

Hershey cooperated with the Department of Labor, notifying the agency in Septemeber that it was moving the machinery. The company posted a memo for employees inside the plant last week, assuring workers that it was providing all the required information.

The act covers all Hershey workers who became separated from the plant after Sept. 26, 2006. The coverage last two years, through October 2009. Employees will receieve a letter from the state Employment Development Department notifying them of their eligibility.

In addition to providing money for job retraining and expenses such as relocation costs, some employees may qualify for wage compensation if they accepted a job that pays significantly less. It also provides a number of other services, such as weekly income support and a Health Coverage Tax Credit.