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May 20, 2008 - article has been reformatted for easier reading. Content has not been altered.

Workers who made Vera Bradley items qualify for assistance

(Created: Friday, May 16, 2008 1:53 PM EDT)

The U.S. Department of Labor has ruled that workers at three Fort Wayne plants that supplied Vera Bradley with handbags are eligible for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

The department issued three separate rulings for Phoenix Sewing Inc., Summit Production Systems LLC and Mercury Manufacturing LLC. The plants are principally owned by Robert Hinty, a partner in Equity Management Group.

In March, the plants announced they would close and lay off 537 workers because Vera Bradley was bringing production of its handbags in-house. Another Vera Bradley supplier, KAM Manufacturing in Van Wert, Ohio, said it would lay off 140 employees.

Vera Bradley spokeswoman Monica Edwards said in March the changes were due to the company "vertically integrating." She added that the company expected to begin hiring production employees, and that the work would remain in Fort Wayne.

"We hope to have the same production and staffing, if not more, in the Fort Wayne community," Edwards said in March.

According to a statement today from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, which administers the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program for the state, the Labor Department began an investigation into the layoffs after it received a petition on behalf of employees.

"The investigation revealed that the decline in employment and the closing of the (firms) is related to the increase of imports of articles like or directly competitive with handbags" produced by the Fort Wayne plants, the Department of Workforce Development said in the statement.

The Labor Department ruled the workers qualified for assistance, such as re-employment services, job search and relocation allowances and training. Weekly trade readjustment allowances also may be made to eligible workers after they've exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits.

The ruling applies to workers who were, or will be, totally or partially terminated from March 18 to April 30, 2010.

The Labor Department also issued alternative trade adjustment assistance for laid-off older employees at the three Fort Wayne plants because "a significant number of workers at the company age 50 or over possess skills that are not easily transferable and that competitive conditions within the industry are adverse."

Eligible older workers can choose between regular trade adjustment assistance benefits or a wage subsidy of 50 percent of the difference between their new salary and their old salary, up to a total of $10,000.

For more information about the assistance programs, workers should contact their local WorkOne center. Northeast Indiana WorkOne locations can be found at

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