Two prominent senators on trade issues yesterday filed legislation to reauthorize and expand the federal program aimed at helping manufacturing workers who have lost their jobs because of international trade.
The bill would reauthorize the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, expected to expire in September, until 2012 and make a number of changes, including extending benefits to workers in service industries such as computer services and health care.
“Twelve million Americans have jobs today because the U.S. trades with nations around the world, but we cannot forget that sometimes trade negatively affects U.S. workers and firms,” said Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, chairman of the Finance Committee.
The program began in 1962 and was created to help win union support for lower tariffs and expanded trade.
“We have a responsibility to help any hard-working men and women negatively affected by trade agreements get the training they need for new, better-paying jobs, and the income support and access to health care they and their families need in the meantime to make ends meet,” said Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, who co-sponsored the bill with Mr. Baucus.
More than 75 percent of American workers are in the services sector, Mr. Baucus said, noting that many services in such areas as accounting, health care and information technology now can be provided remotely.
“So when a large call center left Kalispell, Montana, three years ago for Canada, the Montana workers left behind did not have access to the same benefits that workers laid off from the Columbia Falls Aluminum manufacturing plant did. They should have,” Mr. Baucus said.
The bill would expand benefits to workers who lose their jobs because of competition from imported services, such as an X-ray technician who loses a job because an Indian company can read the X-rays more cheaply, and workers who lose their jobs when a service facility such as a call center moves overseas.
The bill also would cover workers who provide services to manufacturing companies that are already eligible for assistance.
The legislation would allow workers in an entire industry to be eligible for assistance if the president, International Trade Commission or another federal agency determines that imports are harming the industry. An entire industry could also be certified if the secretary of labor receives three or more petitions from the industry in six months, or if a congressional resolution is passed by the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees.
The program also streamlines and lowers the eligibility age to 40 for a program to replace some of the wages lost when a worker moves to a lower-paying job, provides more support for state-provided services to those seeking trade adjustment assistance and incudes new bilingual and entrepreneurial training options.
Business and labor officials were not available for comment yesterday.