This was a speech for a Public Speaking Class so it reads choppy
Gerber Products in the Asheville area and the NC mountains was established in 1958
Yesterday, most of our fathers worked for 30 some odd years at one job. The job was a second home, co-workers were family. Our fathers, our grandfathers took pride in their work, received a gold watch for a job well done, and retired gracefully. That was yesterday. Today, according to Jeremy Ritkin who wrote the book, "The End of Work," two million Americans lose their jobs annually. Technology advancements, foreign competition, and corporate downsizing are all taking their toll. So, what do you do when you suddenly find yourself without a job and it is not quite as you planned? That is a tough question especially when shrouded in all kinds of emotion.
Most rumors tended to die down after a few weeks, but that year they did not. They were always the same story feeding and growing on our worst fears. You would think after 18 years the rumors would either cease or get a little more creative. However, they never did. "I think they are going to shut us down this year" or "This plant will never last another year" was on everyone's lips. However, no one really paid much attention to the rumors except for the workers who had only work there for a short while.
The day came in May 1997, Gerber's final solution. It was like any other day, I awoke, took a shower, and went to work. When I arrived in the parking lot, I notice that everyone on first shift was standing outside. I thought, "Did they lock us out again?" Several of my associates greeted me at the front door, "They're shutting us down."
The vice president of Gerber flew in from Fremont, Michigan to tell us the news. He began, "With mixed emotions ... Nothing personal it's only business." Only business he says, it was very personal to us. He had no tact what so ever. At that moment, the world was at a stand still. We were being deserted, abandoned, and left for scrap. Nothing made sense and it still does not. Our plant ran the most production and we always made our quotas. Gerber gave us the day off to get our heads together. I cried much of the day. Some cried all year.
What do you do when you find yourself without a job and it is not quite as you planned? I called my mom, she said she thought someone had died, and to me someone did. She gave me the best advice I ever received. Weigh your options; decide on a course of action and stick to the plan. I was one of the few who knew exactly what they were going to do after Gerber. This factor helped eliminate much stress.
According to the book," The Deindustralization of America", by Barry Bluestone and Bennett Harrison, "Loss of work results in psychosomatic illnesses, anxiety, tension, impaired interpersonal relations and an increased sense of powerlessness." These symptoms were universal at Gerber that last year. Tension was always lingering in the air. As feelings of helplessness prevailed, tempers flared. People pretended not to care. Stress took its toll. Some managed to lose their spouses along with their jobs. A friend of mine lost her husband and six dress sizes.
Nevertheless, in the end, a few people were determined to hang on as long as they could, delaying the inevitable. For these people it was like hanging on to a sinking ship as it slips slowly into the cold, dark sea, unable or unwilling to let go. Many of us left as soon as we could. For us, it was unbearable to watch most of our life dismantled piece by piece.
Afterwards, I often look back, remembering long monotonous days cutting carrots for eight or nine hours. Peeling labels off hundreds of jars of baby food. I remember walking into a place so hot that when the doors opened the air would smack you in the face fogging up your safety glasses. I miss the pay. I miss the solidarity. However, I will never miss the job. Been there, done that, don't ever want to go back. Yet, some continue to cry.
Out of 500 employees, less than 20 took advantage of government funding for college - going back to school to try to make a bad situation good. A few managed to get better jobs. However, many ex-Gerber employees now have to work two jobs to make up for the loss of income. As written in the book "The End of Work," While many workers are eventually able to find jobs, it is usually with drastic pay cuts. In fact, many more workers have to find additional jobs to make up for the lost pay."
Gerber did me a favor. I found a new perspective on life. A piece of my life had died. Out of the ashes, there is hope. At that moment, I realized that the best plan was to go back to college and get a degree. Education is the one thing that cannot be taken from a person. It makes the difference, setting us apart from the mainstream. I decided to go to a community college. Here I received excellent training from people who cared about my progress. This is what a community college is all about - caring about the individual; making a difference. My experience as a peer tutor was the most rewarding experience I have ever had in a job. I enjoyed helping people with computer applications. I felt like I perhaps made a difference in someone's life. The people I helped truly appreciated my efforts. My philosophy towards education, community college and my role in the community college can be summed up together in three words: Making a difference.
So, what do you do when you suddenly find yourself without a job and it is not quite as you planned? Cry a lot, but then that passes and life does go on. It is best to remember to keep your job in perspective. It is only a job, but more importantly remember to weigh your options, decide on a course of action, and stick to your plan.