(09/09/2002)

Photo: M.K. McFarland

Annetta Richards and Marlene Knight repair the seams on an emergency exit slide. All employees at the Goodrich plant will be out of work by the end of the month.

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Sunday, Sep. 8, 2002 The Bitter End
Sept. 11 helped close Spencer plant

By Scott Finn

SPENCER — For many Americans, the attacks of Sept. 11 stole their sense of security. For Goodrich employees in Spencer, the terrorists also destroyed their jobs.

A year ago, 172 people made and delivered the rubber safety slides for airplanes. Today, only 54 are left. Most will be laid off by the end of this week, the rest lose their jobs at the end of the month.

"We will be here until the bitter end. These are our people," said Shirley Dawson, a human resource manager for Goodrich who's worked there for 28 years.

Some of the plant's production is being shifted to a sister plant in Phoenix. The Spencer employees could have transferred there. Only three have.

The production jobs pay $9 to $10 per hour — the highest pay in the area for someone without a college diploma, Dawson said. The average worker at the plant is a 45-year-old female that's worked there a long time.

"A lot of people started in high school and stayed," she said.

Photo: M.K. McFarland

Lynda Milliron of Big Springs (left) and Annetta Richards of Rosedale worked together at the plant more than 20 years, often at the same table. They assemble the rubber pieces of the slide by hand.

Dawson said some employees are training to become nurses or office workers. One wants to repair heating and air conditioning units. A handful found jobs at a window manufacturing plant.

Only 23 employees were able to retire. The rest are struggling to find jobs in an area of the state notorious for its high unemployment rates.

"There's not a lot of call for rubber fabrication in West Virginia," Dawson said.

Company officials blamed the terrorist attacks for the plant closure. The layoffs were announced Oct. 26, just six weeks after Sept. 11.

Workers aren't so sure that the terrorist attacks were to blame. Company officials talked about moving production to India or Mexico several months before the attacks, said John Simers of Mt. Zion, president of the local union that represents plant workers.

"Sept. 11 had some to do with it," Simers said. "I think it will move to Mexico, myself."

Annetta Richards of Rosedale and Lynda Milliron of Big Springs worked together at the plant more than 20 years, often at the same table. They assemble the rubber pieces of the slide by hand.

"I think this was in the works for years," Richards said. "Sept. 11 was a good excuse."

She said it can take up to six months for a new trainee to learn the job, "and they don't always make it," she said.

Workers have to read blueprints and meet stringent Federal Aviation Administration standards — while working faster and more efficiently all the time.

"It really is a skills job. You have to be good with your hands," she said.

Richards and Milliron tear up when they talk about their last days at the plant. They said they can't imagine working anywhere else.

They take up money when a co-worker becomes sick, they send flowers when a co-worker's loved one dies, they celebrate birthdays in the plant's cafeteria.

"We had a lot of good friends here. We've been together 20 years. We watched each other's kids grow up," Milliron said.

"We spend more time with each other than our own families."

Photo: M.K. McFarland

Betty Huffman, employee of more than 12 years, works alone on a slide.


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