Fishermen sought for testimony on foreign competition relief

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2003

KODIAK (AP) State and federal labor officials are visiting three Alaska communities to find out why fishermen find it difficult to qualify for a program designed to assist workers who lost income due to foreign competition.

Alaska fisherman have been hurt by farmed fish from foreign countries but few have benefited from Trade Adjustment Assistance.

TAA director Tim Sullivan and other U.S Department of Labor officials are visiting Cordova, Juneau and Kodiak to listen to public testimony from seafood workers about declines in Alaska fishing and difficulties qualifying for TAA program benefits.

''They're not familiar with the Alaska fishing industry or Alaska at all the vastness of the state,'' said Alaska TAA program coordinator Shawna Harper. ''And so they basically need to get some firsthand experience on what the fishermen do.''

The 30-year-old TAA program was designed with factory workers in mind, such as auto factory workers, and not self-employed Alaska fisherman or seafood cannery workers.

Problems with the old filing criteria have blocked some Alaska seafood workers from obtaining TAA. Of about 1,000 Alaska TAA applicants, only 20 percent have been approved, Harper said.

TAA is a great program, said Brenda Schwantes, an employment security specialist with the Kodiak Department of Labor center. TAA has enabled the Kodiak agency to assist TAA-certified fishermen and cannery workers to find new jobs, retrain as merchant marines or return to school to obtain vocational certificates and other two-year degrees.

TAA pays up to 90 percent of travel costs for job searches once workers obtain verifiable job searches, she said. Relocation money is also available.

A Kodiak TAA meeting is scheduled for Aug. 13.

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