State rushes to aid of 90 facing cuts

Gerald Anthony Guidry
July 28, 2009
Florett "Flo" Johnson
July 30, 2009
Gerald Anthony Guidry
July 28, 2009
Florett "Flo" Johnson
July 30, 2009

A group of workers expected to be laid off from Offshore Specialty Fabricators received an orientation session last week from the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Rapid Response at the company’s facility in East Houma.

Ninety welders, fitters and other workers would be let go from Offshore Specialty on Aug. 7, according to a workforce commission release, though a company spokesman said the number was not definite.

The company has experienced a decrease in contracts for its services, which include installing and building oil production platforms, said Greg Anders, Rapid Response coordinator.

Some of the workers had been with the company for eight to 10 years, they said.

“When layoffs occur, you have displaced workers,” Anders told the group. “You lost the job through no fault of your own.”

The Rapid Response program, which sends representatives to areas where large numbers of layoffs occur to assist with job placement, will return this week to do one-on-one sessions with the displaced workers.

Offshore Specialty gave 60 days notice about the layoffs to the workforce commission.

“Offshore Specialty filed this,” Anders said. “If not, you wouldn’t have had enough time to prepare to get back in the workforce.”

Anders said the workers qualify for unemployment benefits, which last for 26 weeks. Because of the nationwide economic downturn, the benefits could be extended another 20 weeks.

Unemployment pays $284 a week, but that could be increased by $20.

Workers can continue to receive an extension of their health coverage through COBRA at a discounted rate, Anders said. Workers could also be eligible for food stamps and their children could be covered under the Louisiana Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Anders said Rapid Response will try to bring in employers looking for the workers’ skill sets and experience. Northrop Grumman may come in to test welders for jobs at the company’s Avondale shipyard. Passing two out of three tests could land a welding job starting at $19 an hour.

He said the workers should check the Labor Market Information section on the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s Web site. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning jobs are in demand, as are jobs in transportation and process technology, which involves entering information into technological systems and reading instruments.

Workers can receive unemployment benefits while training. Rapid Response will help identify training providers.

Taking another job will cut off unemployment benefits, so Andrews suggested that the workers plan to stay with the new job. He recommended that the workers take a new job if it pays more than the unemployment benefits.

“This parish has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state,” Anders told the group, “and you have skills in demand.”

– The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Greg Anders, standing at right, with the Louisiana Workforce Commission talked to workers expected to be laid off next week. * Photo by KEYON K. JEFF