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Workers at Burrill get NAFTA aid

PAUL MACOMBER

About 80 workers at Burrill Lumber Co. in White City are eligible to apply for assistance and benefits under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The mill, which manufactures framing lumber, is scheduled to close Feb. 9 or 10, said Mike Burrill, president. He said the company employs 120 workers and he doesn't know why only 80 were certified by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Close to 110 will be out of work by the 9th or 10th, he said. We're running out of all the logs. The planer will run for about two weeks longer, and shipping will continue another week. Burrill said he is still seeking a buyer, but there's been no progress. We'll sell it as an operating unit right up to the day of the auction, he said.

The Labor Department determined that the company's major customers have increased imports of framing lumber from Canada, and the imports adversely affected sales, production and employment at the company.

Under the NAFTA transitional adjustment assistance program, a group of three or more employees can petition the governor for assistance. A union, company official or community agency can also petition on behalf of the laid-off workers.

NAFTA will provide up to $10,000 for counseling, job placement assistance, schooling and training for up to two years. The program will also cover lodging and travel costs for trainees and will subsidize employers' wages for on-the-job training.

Workers can apply at any time, but their plans aren't approved until they have actually been laid off, said Lee Allison, employment specialist and trade act representative with the state Employment Department, which administers the federal benefits.

The workers are the third group in Jackson County who have become eligible for the benefits since NAFTA was passed in 1994.

About 80 Pacific Power workers whose jobs were lost with the closure of the Medford service center were eligible. The power company workers qualified for NAFTA benefits because imported power from neighboring nations could have had a role in their layoffs.

The 115 Medite workers laid off last year with the closure of the company's White City sawmill were also eligible.

NAFTA benefits are tied to specific timelines, which means some people may qualify and others who were laid off later may not be eligible, Allison said.