No sign of retraining funds for Chrysler workers

Ex-Newark employees never get $10,000

By GINGER GIBSON — Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The News Journal

Former Chrysler workers in Newark who were told they would get up to $10,000 for education and retraining as part of their severance are learning that an arrangement between the automaker and the state never materialized and those funds aren’t available.

The company told workers after the plant closed in December that the money would be administered by the state, but Delaware officials say that promise was made without their consent and would have required the state to make the payments upfront with the promise of reimbursement from a company nearing bankruptcy.

Because the state wasn’t willing to front the money and Chrysler didn’t sign on to another arrangement, any hope of those job-training funds disappeared when the company entered bankruptcy.

“No one got the money, not one state, not one person, not one dislocated Chrysler worker ever received that $10,000,” said Delaware Department of Labor representative Bob Strong.

Strong said Chrysler wanted the state to pay for worker training and the company would then reimburse Delaware, an arrangement that concerned state officials because of the automaker’s precarious financial condition.

The state didn’t even know Chrysler had told its former employees the funds would be made available through the state until people began calling the Department of Labor to ask how to get the money, Strong said.

The department then contacted Chrysler, which made an offer: The automaker would pay the state $200,000 to train 800 employees — $250 a worker — sending the money in four installments over the course of a year, after the training had been conducted, Strong said.

The state counteroffered to conduct training programs if Chrysler would pay for them upfront, Strong said. But before hearing back from the automaker, he said, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and discussions ended.

Representatives from Chrysler did not return calls or e-mails requesting comment.

Brian Selander, with Gov. Jack Markell’s office, said all of the workers interested in training ultimately entered the state’s existing job-training program for the unemployed, which is funded with state and federal money.

“The department worked over the course of weeks and months to ensure that the Chrysler workers got trained,” Selander said. “But the department could not put up money on Chrysler’s behalf knowing that Chrysler was facing bankruptcy for a promise that had been made without any involvement of the Department of Labor to begin with.”

Markell’s office announced Monday that the state will use similar state- and federally funded programs to retrain General Motors workers who are losing jobs with next month’s closing of the Boxwood plant. The departments of Labor and Health and Social Services will be on site at the Boxwood plant today to offer assistance and information about programs.

Marcy Watkins, 50, of Wilmington, has been trying unsuccessfully to find a job since she was laid off by Chrysler.

“We were under the assumption that we could get $10,000 for anything we wanted to go to school for,” Watkins said.

She became more frustrated when she learned the only state training program she qualified for was a nurse-assistant class to work in the medical field. Watkins said after years of physical labor and working with her hands, she had hoped to continue in the manufacturing sector. But the only open jobs she’s finding are ones that pay half of what she got at Chrysler and aren’t suited for her skills.

Vincent Camponelli, 34, of Bear, another former Chrysler employee, said he went back to school to get his MBA as soon as he learned the Newark plant was on the list for closing.

And although he heard there would be money for retraining programs, he was told that he didn’t qualify because he has an advanced degree.

He said there has been a lot of discussion among workers about the education funds, but few answers and most of the information is gossip.

“That’s something that a lot of Chrysler people are mad about now,” Camponelli said.