Unions address trade-related job losses in Oregon

A sign along Hermiston’s Highland Avenue advertises for licensed electricians. Though Oregon has lost jobs to trade and offshoring, there are still shortages in some specialized trade jobs.

A new analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows Oregon has lost the most jobs per capita to trade and offshoring, according to the nonprofit Trade Justice Education Fund.

The report uses numbers from Trade Adjustment Assistance, a federal program that provides assistance to workers who lost their jobs as a direct result of the job being moved overseas or the product they produce being replaced by imports from other countries. A total of 11,396 job losses in Oregon from 2017 to 2019 were certified as “trade-related job losses” by the TAA.

Jon Irvine, the workforce liaison for the Oregon AFL-CIO union, said he had his own experience with Trade Adjustment Assistance after being laid off in 2008.

“It was an incredible program at the time for me,” he said.

Irvin said the TAA allowed him to get into a nursing program after his high-skill job was cut and it didn’t look like it was coming back.

He said it was “ridiculous,” however, to see workers such as machinists in high-skill jobs continually lose their jobs and go back onto the TAA rolls again before going through the training for another company.

“Nothing replaces good, solid manufacturing jobs right here in the state of Oregon,” he said.

One of those people who has been a TAA recipient multiple times is Nathan Aldrich, a former machinist who was laid off with “hundreds” of other people due to offshoring. He went back to school with the help of the TAA and worked for Boeing before recently losing his job again to offshoring.

“I got some experience with manufacturing and a trade, but it is definitely suffering,” he said of those industries.

Umatilla County residents have had their own experiences with trade-related job losses. According to the Trade Justice Education Fund’s report, 33 people who lost their jobs at Hermiston Foods were certified by the TAA as trade-related job losses in 2017, along with 219 jobs at Sykes Enterprises Incorporated.

Hermiston Foods was a vegetable-processing plant owned by NORPAC, which closed the Hermiston facility and laid off 199 seasonal and full-time workers. Sykes Enterprises runs call centers around the world that offer customer services for a variety of companies, but closed its call center in Milton-Freewater in 2018.

Hillary Haden, representing the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, said the TAA numbers undercount the true number of people who lost their jobs for trade or offshoring reasons, because they depend on someone to proactively fill out an application to be enrolled in the program, and only certain types of jobs qualify. However, she said Oregon’s TAA numbers in the past three years have been “particularly concerning.”

“The most troubling trend uncovered in our analysis is that trade-related job loss has been on the rise in recent years,” she said. “Oregon experienced a 113% increase in trade-related job loss in the past three years compared to the previous three years.”

She said those losses have been felt in industries from steel to semiconductors.

The report from the Trade Justice Education fund criticized the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for providing incentive for companies to move jobs overseas by allowing them to pay a much lower corporate tax rate on profits made overseas than they do on profits made at home. It also criticized the trade deal with China that the United States signed in January for “neglecting to even mention, let alone address, the abysmal labor rights, forced labor, weak environmental standards and related causes of job offshoring to China,” and instead helping companies feel safer moving jobs overseas by increasing protections for their intellectual property.

The report provides a list of policy recommendations, including enforcing a ban on products made by forced labor, allowing collective bargaining and other joint labor activities across borders, requiring public notice when companies offshore jobs, and requiring other countries to agree to stronger labor and environmental laws in order to access lucrative markets in the U.S.

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