State will offer help to Kmart's employees

Posted: Thursday, January 16, 2003

With 932 jobs earmarked for elimination when Alaska's five Kmarts close in this spring, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development has begun to unfold plans to lend assistance to workers who will be affected.

Mark Mickelson, the department's assistant director for work readiness, said this is one of the biggest labor reductions he's seen in his 25 years with the department.

"It's up there in size," he said.

He said his organization has made initial contact with the retailer, but must wait to initiate plans to assist employees who will be laid off.

"We're just not ready to lay out the whole plan yet," he said. "One of the things that is hanging is the transition package."

Kmart announced Tuesday that it would close 326 of its stores nationwide in an attempt to emerge from bankruptcy by April 30. The store closings are subject to court approval, however, as Kmart is due to appear in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago on Jan. 28.

Kmart officials said the company would provide a range of benefits including supplemental separation pay, extended benefits and job placement assistance. The transition package Mickelson referred to would allow Kmart stores in Kenai, Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage to begin working with the labor department to offer this aid. He said this could come before the court approves the closures, however.

Once the approval is given, state labor officials will visit the stores to meet with employees and discuss the various services the labor department offers from its job centers.

"If the company says 'yeah, you can come on site,' we can meet with them," Mickelson said. "If the company does not invite us, we'll have to wait until the 28th. Once there's a formal notification, all these people are going to be eligible for dislocated worker aid."

In Kenai, Carolyn Vanzant, the regional manager for the labor department's job training and work readiness unit, said the Kenai Job Center stands poised to help the 132 Big Kmart employees who will lose their jobs in March, regardless of whether the labor department is able to work directly in the store.

"It's still business as usual," she said.

"If someone wants to come in on their own, we're willing to work with them. It's not like they have to wait for something to happen."

Val Ischi, the employment service manager at the Kenai Job Center, emphasized that the center's goal is to help individuals with job placement, and not be a place to file unemployment claims.

She said the center is set up to offer job training and accommodate such assistance. The center has resume classes, interview classes and labor market information, as well as a computer resource lab where individuals can search for jobs and build resumes if they don't have computers at home.

The center also offers educational and relocation aid, based upon the need, Vanzant said.

Ischi said the timing of the Kenai closing isn't good, but it coincides with the job center's job fair that will be held on April 5 at Kenai Central High School.

"It's never a good time for a company to go out of business," she said. "We'll have employers there and we would like for them to come prior to the job fair so they're ready to walk into an interview."

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