Mount Vernon Joy Mining employees win TAA benefits

Verlin Fritchley, Jerome P. Tobin, and John Moore, l. to r., are among the first to qualify for TRA benefits following the closing of Joy Mining Machinery in Mount Vernon, Ill.

Eligible workers can now apply for assistance under the Trade Act thanks to efforts of 10 former co-workers

MEMBERS OF LOCAL 483 (Alton, Ill.) who worked for Joy Technologies Inc., d/b/a Joy Mining Machinery in Mount Vernon, Ill., are now eligible for government benefits under the Trade Act of 1974, thanks to the efforts of 10 former co-workers and two lawyers who worked on the case pro-bono (without compensation, for the public good).

“Since the plant closed in 2006, 10 former Joy employees have been fighting a battle against the Department of Labor to get these benefits,” said L-483 Pres. Jerome Tobin. “If you don’t know, the Department of Labor is not for the working man. We were turned down several times, and we almost gave up hope until two lawyers took on the case pro-bono.”

Melvin Schwechter and Emily Dephour of the New York law firm, Dewey & Leboeuf LLP, challenged the DOL and won benefits and services that help eligible workers get back to work.

“I’m glad we got it; this tells me the system will work. It’s slow, but if you persevere you can win in the end,” said Tobin.

The former employees of Joy Mining Machinery are now eligible for the following government programs: Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which helps individuals get back to work with training benefits; Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) — income support while participating in full-time training; or Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA), a wage subsidy of up to $10,000 for older workers who accept re-employment at a lower wage and for whom retraining may not be appropriate.

Among the members who pursued the case was John Moore, who served as “point man” between the law firm and ex-employees who helped fight this case. “He never gave up and fought to the end,” Tobin said of Moore.

Tobin, Moore, and Verlin Fritchley, who is serving as a peer counselor for the former Joy employees, are among the first to qualify for TRA cash benefits. Moore plans to use his money for his son’s college expenses, Tobin will pay down some of his credit card debt, and Fritchley’s benefits will go toward his retirement.

Eligible workers are now busy filling out the necessary paperwork to get the benefits. Over 175 members have signed up, and members should start receiving benefits within two weeks. “The process is slow,” says Tobin, “but not as slow as it took to win a favorable decision from the DOL.”

Established by the Trade Act of 1974, the TAA program was designed to provide training, and in some cases financial assistance, to workers who lose their jobs because of a foreign trade agreement. The program was recently expanded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, better known as the “stimulus bill,” to include workers who lose their jobs to countries that do not have a trade agreement with the United States (for example, China).

Intl. Rep Bill Staggs, who was president of Local 483 when Joy Mining closed, said the awarding of TAA benefits is a great victory for the union members.

When the Mount Vernon plant closed in 2006, over 180 Local 483 members found themselves without a job. Staggs says that most of the members have since found other work, some in other shops, and some as field construction Boilermakers. But there are still too many who are out of work or working at jobs for lower wages. “The training opportunities and services TAA provides will greatly benefit these members,” Staggs said.

Joy Technologies manufactures deep mining equipment, machines that bore into coal seams or slice coal from the wall of a seam. Local 483 members at the company’s Mount Vernon plant repaired those machines, which weighed up to 100 tons and cost millions of dollars.

The Mount Vernon facility also included Joy’s “Brake and Clutch Center of Excellence,” where brakes and clutches for these machines were repaired. The Boilermakers had represented workers there since 1978.