Smith focuses on jobs lost overseas

TACOMA - Congressman Adam Smith, whose district extends into Lacey, is pushing for a big expansion of a program that helps workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition.

Given the rapid pace of technology and the rapid pace of global competition, things can change a lot more quickly than they used to, Smith said Tuesday at a forum at the Port of Tacoma.

The trade adjustment assistance program offers income support and training for manufacturing workers who lose their jobs because of international trade. Smith wants to expand the program to also cover service workers.

Nearly half of the requests for help that were denied in 2006 came from service workers who lost their jobs. Most were in business services, especially computers, or aerospace work like aircraft maintenance. Smith said that is particularly a problem in the Midwest, but Northwest workers also face globalization challenges.

Smith said the trade adjustment assistance program also covers only workers whose jobs move to nations, especially Mexico, with whom the United States has a free-trade agreement. So workers who lose their jobs to outsourcing to India or China aren't covered, he said.

Smith wants to change that.

He met with several Washington state labor, business and government representatives at the Port of Tacoma to talk about the issue. They were positive about his ideas, and offered some of their own.

"Of course, the funding would obviously have to follow," said Julie Garitone of the state Employment Security Department.

That's the rub. Smith said his bill to renew and expand the program is a work in progress and he doesn't have full cost figures. But the bill does call for tripling to $660 million the annual amount authorized by 2012 for worker training under the program.