KPly workers OK’d for unemployment program

PORT ANGELES — About 80 of the 132 laid-off KPly employees gathered at Peninsula College last week to hear about training and income benefits available to them through the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

State and union officials said Friday that the federal Department of Labor certified on April 21 that KPly workers were eligible for the federal program, often called “the Cadillac of unemployment benefit programs.”

KPly workers could be eligible for additional benefits for training and income assistance during that training, as well as access to the state’s Basic Health Plan at 35 percent of the regular cost.

That was good news to the workers, who have been laid off from the plywood mill on Marine Drive in Port Angeles since Nov. 2.

Union and state officials said that the mill’s owner, Klukwan Inc. of Alaska, sought financing, but the owners themselves were mum.

On Feb. 29, the owners notified the state Department of Employment Security and the company’s union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge W2, that it planned to close the 67-year-old mill permanently on April 28.

Many of the workers have taken other jobs or sought retraining for professions outside the wood products industry, while they grappled with living with uncertainty and unemployment benefits.

One such worker at Friday’s meeting was Wesley Armstrong, 49, who is trying to pursue a new career after working at KPly for 10 years as a millwright.

“I’ve just been jumping through hoops the past six months,” Armstrong said.

Those hoops included enrolling in welding classes at Peninsula College, which he plans to use for getting a job in the Alaska fisheries industry, he said.

Bob Lawrence, WorkSource education coordinator at Peninsula College, said more than 30 KPly employees have enrolled at the college.

Mike Rooney, 60, is among them.

He enrolled at Peninsula College after seven years as an equipment mechanic at KPly.

Like Armstrong, he hopes for work in welding.

“There’s more welding jobs,” he said.

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