MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- What now? That's what many Cargill employees are asking after they were laid off on August 1st -- as Cargill closed its beef slaughterhouse in Milwaukee. On Sunday, August 10th, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced the city is stepping up to help the nearly 600 workers who are now out of a job.
After spending nearly 37 years working at the Cargill beef harvesting facility at 19th and Canal, a worker named Felix and 587 others were laid off on August 1st.
The announcement was made on July 30th -- and came as a shock.
The Cargill beef harvesting facility has been in use since the 1940s.
Cargill purchased the plant more than a decade ago -- processing 1,300 to 1,400 animals per day.
"I really don't know (what's next) until Thursday, when there is a job fair," Felix said.
In response to the closure, the city of Milwaukee is stepping up to help these displaced workers.
Mayor Barrett has directed the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board/HIRE Center to work with dislocated Cargill workers to ensure they receive services that are needed at this time.
The HIRE Center is a specialty job center -- providing re-employment and retraining services for dislocated workers residing in or laid off from employment in Milwaukee County.
The HIRE Center will offer Cargill employees orientations, job fairs, and Rapid Response Dislocated Worker sessions.
Mayor Barrett has planned an orientation meeting for Monday, August 11th and Wednesday, August 13th. Those meetings will be followed by a job fair on Thursday, August 14th. All of these events are planned for Serb Hall -- on Milwaukee's south side.
"The state Department of Workforce Development, the HIRE Center will be here. They have been in contact with probably 40 employers," Mayor Barrett said during a press conference on Sunday.
But for these workers, the clock is ticking.
"We can help these workers get back up on their feet and sustain their families. That`s our priority. It is our goal and our hope that all or as many as possible of these workers will be able to secure employment before the 60-day period ends -- and before their paychecks end from Cargill," Mayor Barrett said.
Mayor Barrett's announcement comes just days after the state's Department of Workforce Development announced its own steps being taken to assist these laid off workers.
On July 30th, DWD received a notice from Cargill that it was ceasing operations at its beef harvest facility, effective August 1st, affecting approximately 588 workers.
The notice stated that Cargill would keep the workers on payroll, providing them wages and benefits, through September 28, 2014, in keeping with state law requiring notice 60 days in advance of a business closing or mass layoff.
“We moved quickly to assist the affected workers and their families," Secretary Newson said. "We are pleased that Cargill has agreed to keep the workers on its payroll through September 28th, and we are working closely with Cargill and our partners at the Milwaukee HIRE Center to assist these workers. Fortunately, dozens of employers are stepping forward to fill openings and we will continue to work with Cargill and other stakeholders to help affected workers pursue new opportunities."
Secretary Newson said Cargill is holding a job fair for the workers at American Serb Hall on Thursday, August 14th, and DWD's dislocated worker and job service staff have assisted in registering approximately 40 employers for the event for the Cargill workers only.
Other employers have expressed interest in taking part as well.
Because many of Cargill's workers require interpreters, translators will be provided in 11 different languages during Thursday's job fair.
Prior to the job fair, DWD and its Milwaukee HIRE Center partners are holding Rapid Response orientation sessions to explain programs and services available to them, such as unemployment insurance benefits, job search assistance and potential job training opportunities.
Affected workers can also contact their local Job Center to inquire about services by visiting www.wisconsinjobcenter.org/directory or toll-free at 1-888-258-9966.
The Rapid Response services are part of the DWD-administered Dislocated Worker Program, which serves workers who become dislocated when a business cuts positions or ceases operations entirely. The goal is to help them find work at new jobs that pay as well or better than their previous employment. Services include training assistance to improve existing skills or provide new job skills for a different occupation.