U.S. giving state $1.5 million in aid for B&D workers

Labor Secretary Chao announces grant after meeting Ehrlich, Steele

April 29, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The Bush administration announced yesterday that it is giving Maryland a $1.5 million grant to help find jobs for some of the 1,300 Black & Decker Corp. workers who will be displaced when the company's Easton plant closes this year.

State and federal officials hope the aid will help buffer the recent economic blows suffered on the Eastern Shore. In addition to the Black & Decker plant closing, Tyson Foods Inc. announced hundreds of job cuts this month.

The closings represent the first significant test of the economic development policies of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has pledged to make Maryland more friendly to business than did his predecessor.

The Republican governor has said he intends to look to the Bush administration for help in funding the state's economic needs, saying his experience in Congress will help win additional dollars.

Yesterday, Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the grant at the State House after a meeting with Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele to discuss Maryland's business climate.

Chao said the grant, part of the National Emergency Grants program, will finance skills training, counseling and job search assistance and development for about 850 Black & Decker workers.

The state is to receive $500,000 immediately, with the rest of the $1.5 million paid in installments.

"The president and I are committed to helping Governor Ehrlich and Lieutenant Governor Steele get displaced workers in Maryland's Upper Shore the jobs and also the skills they need to get retrained and re-employed," Chao said.

The Towson-based toolmaker announced in November that it is transferring operations at the Easton plant to facilities in Mexico, Brazil and Fayetteville, N.C. - areas where labor costs are cheaper. The company began laying off workers this month.

The plant was one of Talbot County's largest employers, and its eventual closing is expected to have a significant effect on the economic health of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

"The closure is putting a job hole in this community," said Del. Kenneth D. Schisler, an Eastern Shore Republican.

The Black & Decker layoffs are in addition to the 650 jobs expected to be lost when Tyson Foods closes its Berlin plant this year.

Ehrlich said the state must begin retraining displaced workers for jobs outside the traditional manufacturing sector, which has been hit hard by the recent recession.

"There are certain sectors of our economy that are pretty hot right now; manufacturing is not one of them," Ehrlich said.

The grant will be administered by the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, which has been assisting Black & Decker employees since the closing was announced last year.

"This is going to allow us to continue the effort as well as enhance the effort," said Daniel P. McDermott, Sr., the state board's executive director. "A layoff of this magnitude, and in this area, is larger than what we are equipped to deal with day in and day out."

John Wasilisin, deputy secretary for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, the agency that applied for the grant, said officials are trying to begin retraining and counseling employees even before they leave their jobs at Black & Decker.

"Once they leave, you will never have them all at one place again, so we wanted to capture them before they leave the facility," Wasilisin said.

Black & Decker officials say they welcome the federal assistance. "It's a substantial benefit to the local work force," said Barbara Lucas, a company spokeswoman.

While in Annapolis, Chao also urged that Congress pass President Bush's economic development stimulus package. The plan calls for $550 billion in tax cuts, which some in Congress say is too large. "We need the president's job and growth plan to grow this economy," Chao said.

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