Laid-off workers at RS Medical eligible for help

Trade Act safety net available because jobs are being outsourced

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Workers at RS Medical who’ve been laid off or who face layoffs because of foreign competition are eligible for retraining and jobless benefits, a federal investigation has found.

A U.S. Department of Labor official decided workers at the Vancouver-based medical equipment company are eligible for “worker adjustment assistance” under the 1974 U.S. Trade Act because their jobs are being outsourced to a foreign country.

Officials with the Washington Employment Security Department — which will handle the assistance program locally through its WorkSource Vancouver office — said Friday an estimated 65 RS Medical workers are eligible for assistance, including some who were laid off as long ago as Feb. 27, 2011.

Bill Tarrow, deputy communications director for the state Employment Security Department, said the department is sending letters to people to inform them of their eligibility.

Within two weeks, Tarrow said, the plan is to hold two orientations at the WorkSource Vancouver office spelling out how people may benefit from the Trade Act. Tarrow said sometimes people who are eligible don’t learn of the program, so it’s important to spread the word as widely and quickly as possible. Even those who aren’t aware and who take another job may be eligible for the program, he said.

A transformation

News of the availability of the Trade Act safety net for former RS Medical employees comes as the company moves to outsource some jobs as part of a larger effort to transform the company’s direction.

John Konsin, president and chief executive of RS Medical, has previously told The Columbian that he wants a sharper focus on the sub-specialty of pain management that he believes will take off in the same way that sports medicine has blossomed as its own specialty. He envisions the company producing high-wage, high-skilled jobs creating products that expand beyond its product base of electrotherapy devices and eye-pain management.

He said RS Medical — a 22-year-old company that employs 200 people locally and 400 total — also needs to lower its billing costs for government-reimbursed medical equipment, and outsourcing avoids the cost of buying a new computer system that will be needed to meet upcoming government record-keeping mandates.

In February, Konsin said he was awaiting an analysis and recommendations by the global outsourcing company Genpact before making a final decision on job cuts. He would not say how many jobs might be eliminated. Local job assistance officials said they were prepared for cuts of 10 to 15 percent of the local workforce, but some workers say they anticipate much deeper cuts.

That same month, Genpact employees met with RS Medical workers at the company’s east Vancouver campus to learn about their jobs. While most of the visiting Genpact employees were from India, according to Konsin, Genpact does maintain some operations in the United States.

At that time, Konsin told The Columbian the company didn’t know where the outsourced jobs would go. Konsin could not be reached for comment Friday.

‘Expect a lot’

The federal investigation that found RS Medical employees are eligible for Trade Act benefits sheds more light on the issue.

In a March 23 document certifying the workers’ eligibility, Del Min Amy Chen, a trade adjustment assistance officer with the U.S. Department of Labor, said her investigation was prompted by a petition filed on Feb. 28 by “a state workforce office on behalf of workers” of RS Medical.

The group of affected workers includes “on-site leased workers from Robert Half Finance (and) Accounting, Accountemps and NW Staffing Resources Inc., and workers reporting to the Vancouver” facility.

The workers are in the finance and sales divisions of RS Medical, according to Chen’s report, and their jobs are “related to the supply of sales, billing, order entry and customer services.”

The affected group of workers eligible for help under the Trade Act includes those who “became totally or partially separated from employment” on or after Feb. 27, 2011, according to Chen.

Chen went on, writing that the loss of the workers’ jobs stems from the fact that their “firm has acquired from a foreign country the supply of services like or directly competitive with the sales, billing, order entry and customer services supplied by RS Medical.”

There are several components to the help provided under the Trade Act.

Workers whose jobs have been outsourced are eligible for up to 130 weeks of paid retraining. That can include going back to school, receiving on-the-job training or some other program worked out between the worker and WorkSource officials.

Rob Mills, Trade Act program coordinator for the state Employment Security Department, said a “substantial benefit package” is involved, including coverage of job-seeking and relocation expenses if a worker can’t find a job in his or her immediate labor market.

A worker may also continue to collect regular state-level jobless benefits while using a Trade Act program or, if they’ve run out of that form of unemployment insurance, they can qualify to receive jobless benefits under the Trade Act.

Mills said the overarching goal of the Trade Act program is to upgrade a people’s skills and to prepare them for a high-demand, high-growth jobs. The program also allows dislocated workers to receive a supplement to help pay their monthly health care premiums.

Mills said much is expected of the workers who qualify for the program, including conducting research and developing a plan to attain their goals.

“We really expect a lot of the individual,” he said.