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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Transnational Development Clinic Helps Hundreds of Connecticut Factory Workers Gain Access to Job Training and Income Assistance

With support from a Yale Law School clinic, hundreds of workers laid off from a Connecticut manufacturing plant have prevailed on their claim for vocational training and income assistance under the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. Robert Maars, an experienced metal-cutter at the now-shuttered Marlin Firearms in North Haven, sued the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) after it denied the non-unionized employees eligibility for the program. On Sept. 7, 2011, after a comprehensive investigation, the Labor Department reversed itself and certified Mr. Maars and his fellow workers under the TAA program. The victory provides 265 Connecticut workers with critical assistance at a time of increasing economic vulnerability just as Congress is considering terminating the program.

“With this assistance, I will be able to get job training to find new work and help paying the health insurance I need,” said Maars, 56, a resident of Branford who was laid off by Marlin in April 2010 and has been unemployed ever since. Mr. Maars was represented by law students in the Transnational Development Clinic at Yale Law School, under the supervision of Clinical Professor of Law Muneer Ahmad.

TAA provides a crucial safety net to vulnerable workers who lose their jobs due to import competition or outsourcing. Eligible workers enroll in robust job training programs, and may receive the following assistance to help them find jobs in the rapidly changing U.S. economy:

• income assistance equivalent to a 57-week extension of unemployment insurance (in Connecticut, the average unemployment payment is $330/week);
• a health care tax credit equal to 65% of COBRA or other qualified health insurance plan premiums for workers and their families (in Connecticut, the average COBRA premium consumes approximately 83% of a worker’s monthly unemployment insurance);
• for workers 50 or older, wage gap insurance of 50% of the difference between a worker’s old wages and wages in reemployment, up to $12,000 over two years; and
• job search expenses up to $1,500 and relocation expenses up to $1,500.

As import pressures increased in recent years, Marlin Firearms announced the closure of its North Haven plant, with the last workers laid off in June 2011. The factory’s 265 workers were part of a legacy that began in a small workshop in New Haven in 1870. The closure, a shock to the local economy, prompted the Connecticut Department of Labor to petition for TAA assistance on the workers’ behalf.

After a cursory initial investigation, the U.S. Department of Labor, which administers the TAA program, denied the petition for assistance. Following Mr. Maars’s appeal to the U.S. Court of International Trade, DOL reinvestigated and ultimately determined that imports of firearms like or directly competitive with those manufactured at the North Haven factory contributed to the layoff of the 265 workers.

TAA will provide Mr. Maars and his fellow workers a critical opportunity to retrain for employment in high-growth sectors of the economy. Mr. Maars intends to pursue training in computerized medical records. Warren Jackson, another former Marlin employee, plans to train for work in the security industry. “I want to get back out here and back into the work force. I want to do something in demand,” Mr. Jackson said.

“This decision represents a victory for workers that dedicated their lives to building the Marlin brand,” Mayor John DeStefano said. “The job training and critical income assistance is essential in ensuring that these workers have a pathway to future employment.”

Decided the day before President Obama announced his jobs plan, Mr. Maars’s case highlights the TAA program’s ability to provide a bridge to re-employment for laid-off workers in a dismal economic climate. With unemployment in Connecticut at 9% and the U.S. poverty rate at its highest level since 1993, TAA will provide critical assistance to the 265 Marlin workers. In New Haven, where 70 of the 265 workers reside, the poverty rate is nearly 27%.

The Marlin workers’ victory comes as Congress is considering defunding the TAA program entirely. The Senate will vote on the program this week. Congressional Republicans have announced their opposition to the program. Passage of a strengthened TAA program is tethered to free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, votes on which have been delayed because of Republican opposition to TAA renegotiations.

Daniel Knudsen ’12, one of the law students who represented Mr. Maars, stated, “By bringing the action to the Court of International Trade, Mr. Maars helped to secure critical assistance for hundreds of Connecticut families at a time of economic despair. Mr. Maars’s courage and persistence ultimately won the day, not only for himself, but for his entire factory.”