Federal aid to help 570 K-C mill employees find work

Everett Herald - Debra Smith

EVERETT -- Hundreds of mill workers who lost their jobs at Kimberly-Clark are about to get more help finding new work.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday approval of a $1.79 million workforce emergency grant to provide assistance to Kimberly-Clark workers trying to find new jobs. The grant is expected to help 570 workers.

More than 700 people lost their jobs, many right around the holidays, after Kimberly-Clark announced it would shut down its pulp and paper operations in Everett. The last of the workers are expected to clock out Sunday.

The money will go mainly toward hiring staff who will work individually with displaced employees, helping them find jobs, education and other support services, said Sue Ambler, director of the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County.

Some of the money also is slated for short-term help with extras such as paying bills and gas to drive to job interviews, she said. Workers affected by the mill shutdown can contact their peer support representative or the Everett Workforce office for help.

The council applied for the grant in January. Usually, emergency federal grants can take up to 10 months to be awarded. Ambler credited the fast turnaround to pushing by politicians.

The grant approval comes after a letter was sent to the Department of Labor by Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith calling for approval of emergency assistance for Kimberly-Clark workers in Everett.

The Washington delegation asked for the Department of Labor to make a quick decision on the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council's application for a Workforce Investment Act Dual-Enrollment National Emergency Grant.

"With the closure of this plant came the loss of hundreds of family wage jobs in the community -- jobs that have employed generations of families for 80 years," Cantwell said. "This emergency workforce assistance will help these workers get back on their feet as they transition to new employment."

The emergency grants are hard to come by, Larsen said. The sheer number of people laid off played a big role in the grant's approval.

"This is a bitter-sweet victory," he said. "The only reason we're applying for the grant was because Kimberly-Clark chose to close this facility. The men and women who worked there deserve better."

Kimberly-Clark workers already are receiving trade adjustment assistance, which pays for job training, job searches, health insurance and unemployment benefits.

Ambler estimates around 100 employees have found new work. As a group, they are highly skilled, she said. The challenge remains finding work that pays as well as the mill. She said the median salary at Kimberly Clark was $68,000.

Meanwhile, Kimberly Clark said it's already had interest from potential buyers, said company spokesman Bob Brand. It's too early in the process to provide more details, he said.

One of those suitors has made vocal pitches to city leaders. Representatives for a company based in Dayton, Tenn., called Energex Production Co., approached city leaders at public meetings.

The company would like to set up a biofuel plant, said Tom Senenfelder, who said he's about to take over as chief executive for the company.

Little information is available to the public about Energex, which is not connected with separate companies of the same name in Florida, Pennsylvania and overseas.