Aid for Meijer workers ousted by foreign competition

Kent County

SAND LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — Employees laid off by Meijer last year are now eligible for federal benefits that include job training and paid tuition.

The reason why Meijer has to offer these benefits is because the information technology jobs it eliminated in West Michigan were filled by workers in other countries. Some of the outgoing employees had to train their replacements in India and elsewhere via Skype.

In the eight months since Meijer laid off some 400 IT employees, many have been able to work in other departments or get jobs with IBM or other partners providing IT services for the company.

But about 100 former employees will be getting extra help.

Among them is Sand Lake mother Victoria Bice. She was 19 when she started working at Meijer’s corporate headquarters, where she worked her way up from the mailroom to a good-paying position in the IT department. Along the way, she met her husband Chad.

“Meijer has always been in my family. It’s actually the first memory I have of moving to Grand Rapids,” Bice said Wednesday. “I planned on retiring from there and after 25 years it was, ‘You know what? We could run the company without you. Thank you for your time and here’s your severance.'”

That was in October. Since then, she has not been able to land a comparable job. Her husband was also laid off by Meijer but then went to work for IBM and will soon move to a new job.

“I’m getting to that point where I may need to take what I can get,” Bice said.

Now, thanks to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act of 2015, she qualifies for another six months of unemployment benfits and various job training assistance.

The act, championed by the Obama administration, was meant to offset losses in the job market when employers in the U.S, outsource jobs to foreign workers. The way the act works is that either a union official or three affected employees have to report the outsourcing to the state, which then initiates a federal investigation.

A Meijer spokesperson said the company cooperated with the government and is happy to see the former employees get the benefits they are entitled to.

Meijer says it was making changes to stay competitive in the retail industry, including moving from hardware-based data systems to cloud-based, and that required a new set of IT skills. The company continues to employee hundreds in IT, still one of its one of its largest departments.

Victoria Bice now has plans to go into one of the approved growing job fields and will finish the Grand Valley State University degree she abandoned two decades ago because she had a good job.

“I am no longer toying around with the idea of going back to school. I am going back to school and thank you to Meijer and the federal trade agreement assistance program; that will be paid for by them,” she said.

Asked if she is optimistic about the future, she replied: “I have to be optimistic about the future.” 

“But it’s hard,” she qualified. “It’s hard.”

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