Galesburg Maytag plant shuts down

Galesburg Maytag plant shuts down
 
Date September 17, 2004
Section(s) Local News
Brief  
 
By JAN DENNIS

Associated Press Writer

GALESBURG, Ill. — Bobbi Neice has counted down the days to unemployment for nearly two years but says the early warning didn’t make it any easier when Maytag shut down its last assembly line in this western Illinois city.

Neice and nearly 900 other workers walked out of the Galesburg plant for the last time this week, some hauling bargain-priced refrigerators or work benches and others clutching only years of memories.

“It was hard. It was happy but sad at the same time. It’s been a long two years. Very long,” said Neice, 33, who worked at the plant for more than eight years. Her last day was Thursday, the plant’s final day of production.

The shutdown ended more than a half-century of refrigerator production at the sprawling plant, which has become a symbol of America’s job losses to foreign factories since Maytag announced in late 2002 that it would move Galesburg’s jobs to plants in Mexico and Iowa.

Workers driving out the gates for the last time said they appreciated the national attention, including a mention during U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama’s keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

But many remained bitter over losing jobs they thought would stretch to retirement.

“I think 90 percent of the people here thought that. They thought ‘This is Maytag. They aren’t going anywhere,”‘ said Kevin Bowman, 47, who spent 26 years at the plant where his dad retired after 40 years.

Steve Raymond was also a second-generation worker at Maytag and sadly recalled finding his 61-year-old father dead of a heart attack on the plant floor nearly three years ago.

“This was my father’s life for 35 years, and this is how they pay him back. They’re destroying his children’s lives and the community,” said Raymond, 41, who worked at the plant for six years.

As they left the plant behind, workers wondered what’s ahead for Galesburg, which will lose about 300 more jobs by the middle of next year when a plant that makes pre-engineered metal buildings closes.

The city is developing a business park that it hopes will attract small manufacturers and distribution companies. In the meantime, the highest-paying jobs are about an hour away in Peoria or the Quad Cities.

Workers blamed corporate greed for their limited job options, along with federal trade policies that they say are sending high-paying U.S. factory work to Mexico, China and other foreign nations.

“I hope this will get people to stand up on their back legs and get the government back in shape,” said Charles Nott, a security guard at the plant for 13 years.

Workers said there was a mix of emotions as assembly lines began shutting down Tuesday, from tears and hugs to whoops of joy that the nearly two-year countdown was finally over.

“When you work with people a long time, it’s hard to say goodbye. You spend more time with these people than you do your family,” said Mary Shaw, who was retiring after 30 years at the plant.

Only about 400 production workers remained Thursday at a plant that that was Galesburg’s largest employer two years ago, with 1,600 employees. About 100 workers will stay through the end of the year to shut the plant down.

Workers signed the last refrigerators off the line, and they’ll ultimately wind up in union training centers as a tribute to the Galesburg plant and its workers, said Dave Bevard, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2063 at the plant.

“It’s nice to know that there’s going to be something to remind people of what these workers did,” Bevard said.

Maytag spokesman Lynne Dragomier said the plant’s workers were professional to the end and that the factory’s waning days have been “emotional but proud.”

A slow stream of trucks moved in and out the plant’s half-empty parking lot Thursday to pick up work benches, break tables and vending-area refrigerators that workers bought in bargain bidding.

Thomas Medina paid $40 for a break table that will find a spot in his garage while he tries to find a new career. After eight years at the plant, the 41-year-old thinks he might go to a community college to study heating and air conditioning.

He said workers are nearly evenly split between landing new jobs, heading to college, retiring or starting an uncertain job search.

David Sivert, 28, worked at the factory for eight years and hopes he doesn’t land in another one when he finds his next job.

“But if I have to, I will,” Sivert said. “I’ll do anything.”

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