I'm a Vietnam veteran and when I came home from that war as a young man, I went to work in the Norge Plant in Herrin, Illinois. I worked there 36 years. I saw Norge change hands four times. Three times it kept running. The fourth, well Whirlpool bought our plant from Maytag in March 2006 and shut her down for good in December 2006. I only needed 6 more years and I could retire. Now, I'm 56, I'm without a job and not sure where to look. Doesn't seem there's even a job out there to find. I've tried.
I worked hard for my pay and I tried to do more than was expected of me. We all got hurt at one time or another and I had my fair share of injuries. But only two were serious.
In 1984 I fractured my neck getting a trailer ready to load. I recovered, but developed arthritis from it. The pain from the arthritis spread a little more each year, but I learned to manage it for more than 22 years.
The second time I got hurt seriously was the last week before Whirlpool closed the plant down. We were loading what was left of 21,000 machines in a warehouse. I was backing my fork truck out of a trailer when the "automatic dock plate" malfunctioned. I came to a hard stop, so hard it knocked my hat and my glasses off, knocked my teeth out, and now my lower back was hurting.
To make a long story short, I went to a number doctors and had numerous tests. I had injured three discs in my lower back and would need an operation. Then Whirlpool decided to drop me from Worker's Comp. Now what? Today I feel like I've been rode hard and put up wet—except I haven't been put up, just turned out.
When Whirlpool announced in May 2006 they were closing our plant, we were shocked. None of us believed our plant would ever close and we would all lose our jobs. But we did.
On the same day, some of the key politicians for this area called a news conference. Even Gov. Blagojevich's politically appointed "job tsar" for this region spoke. They were all Democrats and basically they all said the same thing; how they too had been blind-sided by Whirlpool, how they were going to turn this around, how they were going to do something for us.
It was all talk, just talk. Whirlpool owned the Maytag plant and could close it if it wanted. But what I do know is my plant is closed, 1000 of us are trying to make it as best we can. And the politicians, they went on back to Springfield and recently voted themselves a pay raise, twice. For what?
A spokesperson for Man-Tra-Con talked about how they were going to help. When I think about it, though, the only thing they did was shuffle a lot of bureaucratic paper around, act as a conduit for benefits that we had earned, and supposedly provide assistance most didn't need.
I'm not sure what our union could have done. We gave concessions for years. That didn't save our plant. The severance package they negotiated was thin. Whirlpool is single minded and determined when it comes to its profit.
So now what? "Vote Democratic?" Democrats and Republicans alike have little to say that I can believe.
The future I planned for, the future I worked for, it is now gone, gone with Whirlpool. Some how I will get my back fixed—in spite of Whirlpool. Some how I will find work—in spite of Man-Tra-Con. And, I am going to find a better way—in spite of all the "talking head" politicians with their empty promises and false hopes.