Minneapolis, MN (AP) -- To gear up for a new career, Brian Tucci took out loans and received help from his family to pay for school after he was laid off from his aircraft mechanic job two years ago.
If he had been laid off from a manufacturing job lost to offshoring, he would have had more generous unemployment benefits, tuition, books, tools, and, if needed, his relocation costs covered. He would also be eligible for reimbursement on 65 percent of his health care premiums. But under current federal law, those more generous benefits are not extended to workers who work in what are considered service-industry jobs.
"I checked into it right away, and they said no, it's supposed to be just manufacturing workers," said Tucci, 32, of Eagan.
Though it may be too late for Tucci, the union representing mechanics at Northwest Airlines is looking to help others.
The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association Local 33 is supporting national legislation that would extend what are called trade adjustment assistance benefits to service employees whose jobs have been outsourced.
Under that program, a person could conceivably receive benefits for 2½ years, said Vel Rempel, the state coordinator of trade adjustment assistance program. That includes the initial 26 weeks of unemployment that most laid off workers receive. More than 2,000 Minnesotans received trade adjustment assistance benefits last year, accounting for $17.7 million in income support and tuition.
Airline mechanics would like some of that. More than 2,500 mechanics based in the Twin Cities have lost their jobs in the past few years. Northwest has farmed out a portion of the work they performed to foreign maintenance firms.
On Friday, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill that would extend the program to service workers. An effort to pass similar legislation failed last year.
Enrolling full-time in a partially subsidized two-year retraining program isn't an option for people who have to support their families especially when unemployment benefits run out after 26 weeks, said Ted Ludwig, president of AMFA Local 33.
While the state's dislocated worker program gives grants for retraining, it doesn't cover the entire cost. "That might get a semester or one-tenth of what it costs to get a certification," he said. "There are no jobs for aircraft mechanics and if you want to train into a different field while we have a lot of experience you still need some type of certification."
Tucci, for one, received about $2,500, which barely covered his first semester in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration program at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He graduated in May and is looking for a job. Now he has $18,300 in loans.
When he first heard about the trade adjustment assistance program, his cares were lifted temporarily. "I knew it was too good to be true," he said. "Then the whole thing came crashing down."