Assume Nothing

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The first thing Ron Anderson (second from left) did after NUMMI closed was go hiking with family and friends.

Ron Anderson worked at NUMMI, for 12 years, but he wasn't an employee. He co-owned one of a host of supplier companies that fed into the plant with parts and services.

Anderson did quality control.  "If they had a quality problem in the pipeline, then we would help filter those problems out, before they got to the production floor."

Like many subcontractors, Supplier Link Services was attached to NUMMI at the hip.  That contract constituted 90% of its business.

When NUMMI closed, Supplier Link Services went from a company employing 30 people to one that employs three.  Anderson's sister runs it now. "They took that 10% and they're trying to grow it into a larger business."

Supplier Link Services, like many suppliers, applied for Trade Adjustment Act (TAA) benefits. American workers deemed to have been negatively impacted by the vagaries of international trade can, through this program, get help with everything from relocation reimbursement to job retraining.  Some American workers. A company going under has to apply to the Department of Labor for certification/enrollment.

NUMMI applied in late October, along with two other supplies represented by the United Auto Workers. The Labor Department approved their petitions within one month. That was a "record" response time, according to people who play in these waters. But the sudden surge of activity appeared to exhaust the DOL. The NUMMI suppliers and their employees didn't get certified till summer.

Anderson claims it wasn't just the DOL that sat on those supplier requests, but the NUMMI point person at the Alameda County Workforce Investment Development Board (ACWIB), who collected the applications before sending them on to Washington DC.

That would be Tony Castillo, so I e-mailed him to ask about that. His response:

Once DOL certified NUMMI, the company provided ACWIB with their suppliers’ contact information. We then reached out to them in early January 2010 with a template that we developed to capture their particular information. As the companies were returning the completed templates to our office we were using their information to complete TAA petitions which we then submitted to the State of California for their filing with DOL. The petitions were typically submitted to the State the same week that the completed template was returned to us by the supplier company.

Let’s also remember that it was expected that most of the suppliers were going to still be in business until April 1, 2010. Most of the suppliers’ petitions were submitted in January but the DOL did not begin certifying these petitions until late in March and through the summer. Once the suppliers realized that DOL was taking longer certifying their petitions they began applying political pressure through the California congressional delegation to get DOL to move approving petitions more timely, to no avail. DOL commented that they had been inundated by petitions in a national scale and they lacked the resources to make speedier decisions.

Whatever the case, Supplier Link Services' application was approved, and Anderson was then able to apply.

Anderson had a new career path in mind. After thinking deeply while on backpacking trips to Tuolumne Meadows and the like, he knew wanted to be a high school chemistry teacher.  That would mean getting a teaching credential, of course.

But at his local one-stop career center in San Francisco, where the EDD directed him to go, the person he talked to told him he could not approve Anderson's request because the state of California did not have a budget at that time.

Hunh? The TAA is federally funded, which is what Anderson told the guy.  "But the state gets the money from the feds and the state distributes it. That was the answer I got from the person I assumed was the expert on the subject." Anderson didn't leave it there. He appealed, but even after a review by an administrative law judge Anderson is paying out of pocket for classes at the University of San Francisco. Price tag: $30,000.

The thing is, the San Francisco counselor may not have talking out of his hat. Here's Castillo again:

During the budget impasse of last summer state employees (TAA Specialists [employed by the California Employment Development Department]) were directed by the Controller that they were not to enter into training contracts until a budget was adopted. In anticipation to the deadlock in Sacramento, local areas (including the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Solano and Santa Clara) received “bridge” funding from the state in the spring to pay for the training of TAA ... until a budget was signed.

Since the person went to get services to an area that did not receive “bridge” funds the TAA specialist could not do much for him except refer the person back to one of the other areas.

Now, the guy at the One-Stop in San Francisco did tell Anderson to go to the NUMMI Reemployment Center in Fremont, and Tony Castillo suggests the same for anybody else displaced by NUMMI. That's because the state staffed that center with six people who really know the nitty gritty, and when you're dealing with two levels of bureaucracy, state and federal, you want to talk with people steeped in the specifics of your situation.

"The state does not have enough TAA specialists to serve the need," Castillo says. "EDD out-stationed 6 TAA staff at the NRC at our (ACWIB) insistence."

Anderson could have used this scuttlebutt a little earlier in the game.  Other NUMMI alumns have complained about the process, and the different answers they get about what educational programs TAA will accept from different "experts" at different career centers.

Why didn't Anderson go to Fremont? He says he should have, but by the time he seriously considered it, he was already in the appeals process, and figured he would wait that out.

He's a student teacher now, and on his way to a teaching credential. You could say he's been taking two courses of study over the last year: one in his new chosen field of endeavor, and one in bureaucracy.

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About Rachael Myrow

From KQED’s Bureau in San Jose, Rachael Myrow covers politics, economics, technology, food and culture in a vast region extending from Burlingame to Edenvale to Fremont. This follows more than seven years waking at 3 am to host the daily version of KQED's California Report, broadcast on NPR affiliates throughout the state during NPR's Morning Edition. She still guest hosts for The California Report and Forum, blogs for Bay Area Bites, and files for NPR and PRI’s The World. Before KQED, she worked for Marketplace and KPCC in Los Angeles. Follow @rachaelmyrow

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