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Getting Trade Readjustment Allowance for Shalefield Workers

By Alex Lotorto - IWW Local 570, April 22, 2016

In 1974, The Trade Adjustment Act was passed, establishing a benefit for workers separated from their jobs due to foreign trade, Trade Readjustment Allowance (TRA). Here is a brochure from the Department of Labor with an overview of the program (Link).

The TRA benefit has been modified over the years, but currently includes extended unemployment benefits (normal unemployment compensation only extends 26 weeks), free retraining, relocation assistance if workers find jobs outside of their area, an Obamacare credit to purchase health insurance, and assistance to workers over 50. See here for specifics (Link).

It's not ideal and is a pittance compared to what workers were compensated before the downturn in shale gas production driven by both overproduction in North America and foreign imports of oil from OPEC nations. However, in lieu of any sound just transition policy to help energy sector workers after boom and bust cycles like the one we're facing nationally, TRA is worth pursuing.

For any shalefield workers who need an ally or assistance in applying for TRA benefits, the Northeast Pennsylvania Workers' Help Line is accessible to support this effort: (570) 478-3IWW or (570) 478-3499Petitioners may receive assistance in preparing the petition at their local American Job Center, by contacting the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. at 202-693-3560 (Main Number).I took some time today to research the possibility of shalefield workers obtaining Trade Readjustment Allowance and found many recent decisions denying workers across the country laid off due to the downturn in production.

 

The Department of Labor finds in most of the cases that: 

"the investigation revealed that imports of crude oil, natural gas,
or NGLs did not contribute importantly to worker separations.
Aggregate United States imports of crude oil, natural gas, or
NGLs did not increase during the same period of time in which
United States production of crude oil, natural gas, and NGLs
were decreasing (2014 compared 2013 and January through May
2015 compared to the corresponding 2014 period). The
petitioner's allegation of the price of oil falling did not
correlate to an increase in aggregate United States imports of
crude oil, natural gas, and/or NGLs while United States
production of crude oil, natural gas and/or NGLs was
decreasing."

However, I found one application from the shale gas era where 45 workers were certified and approved for TRA at Cimmaron Energy.

 

"Section 222(a)(2)(A)(i) has been met because the sales
and/or production of oil and gas separators by Cimarron Energy
have decreased absolutely.
Section 222(a)(2)(A)(ii) has been met because imports of
articles like or directly competitive with the articles
produced by Cimarron Energy have increased in 2015 from 2014
levels.
Finally, Section 222(a)(2)(A)(iii) has been met because
increased imports contributed importantly to the worker group
separations and sales/production declines at Cimarron Energy.
Conclusion"

I don't think the investigations in the denial cases adequately included the interrelatedness of pipelines, rail infrastructure, and oil & gas production with Canada, which drives down prices and production in the United States. There should also be more investigation into how OPEC imports displace production and refining domestically that I feel the Department of Labor is overlooking.

In closing, I believe that it would be worth a shot for laid off workers in the shale gas and shale oil industries to start applying for TRA benefits. It's a short application, with no penalty for applying. It's important that they allege that foreign imports of oil and gas have caused the downturn and supply information to the Department of Labor with their application. DOL employees are not trained energy economists and could probably be swayed, as in Cimarron Energy's case, to approve benefits for workers who desperately need them.

Contact the Northeast Pennsylvania Workers' Help Line is accessible to support this effort: (570) 478-3IWW or (570) 478-3499Alex Lotorto is a union delegate for Northeast Pennsylvania IWW and Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network. Contact information: alex@energyjustice.net, 570-269-9589

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

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