Workers who lost their jobs when Welex Inc. moved its sheet extrusion machinery factory from Blue Bell, Pa., to North Carolina, are eligible for help from the federal government to find new jobs.
Meanwhile, a Welex executive is disputing the government's claim that foreign imports hurt the company the basis for the ruling.
Welex laid off about 50 employees in Blue Bell, a suburb of Philadelphia, when it moved its factory to Greenville, N.C.
As part of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program helps people who become unemployed as a result of competition from foreign trade. In a June 26 decision, certifying officer Elliott Kushner said all laid off Welex workers are eligible for benefits. Those benefits include retraining in new job skills and money to travel for a job search if suitable positions are not available locally. For workers older than 50, the government pays a wage subsidy for two years to make up the difference in pay between their old and new jobs.
Welex officials say they relocated manufacturing to improve efficiency, moving from a 40-year-old factory in Blue Bell to a modern building in Greenville.
At first, the Department of Labor rejected the Welex workers' request for help, saying there was insufficient evidence that foreign imports hurt Welex. All of the company's manufacturing is done in the United States.
But three former Welex workers filed a request to reconsider that decision. They said Welex moved to ``the less expensive South'' to ``compete with the Chinese.''
After collecting more information from the company and a trade association, the labor department reversed course and granted the workers eligibility.
In his ruling, Kushner ``increased imports'' of extrusion equipment ``contributed importantly'' to the decline of sales orders at Welex in late 2006 and early 2007, when the plant shut down.
Welex President Wayne Lewis disputed that, saying Kushner ``made a poor decision, not based upon the facts.''
``I am absolutely unaware of losing any order to a Chinese manufacturer. And this month, Welex is exporting a five-extruder, coextrusion system to China,'' Lewis said.