Former Indiana glass employees 'still surviving'

It's been 16 months since Indiana Glass Company employees got their walking papers and watched as the company packed up and moved about 240 jobs to a sister plant in Oklahoma.Some former employees have been forced to make difficult decisions.

"It's now about making choices," said Bette Armstrong, who at age 62 lost her job of 13 years. "Do I pay my electric bill or buy gas or put food on the table? It's a shame when it comes down to that."

In its heyday Indiana Glass employed about 1,500 union workers and perhaps 200 management personnel. About 45 remain.

Former employees - some still looking for work, some back in school - are still bitter and angry.

"We're bitter about losing our jobs, and the way we were treated [by management]," Armstrong said. "They rubbed our faces in it."

Severance pay ranged from $55 to $78 for each year worked. The most anyone received was about $2,300.

"I still have a little problem with anger," said Kenneth Fry, who spent 25 years working in the glass factory. "I can't let it go. I'm 56 and have had quite a few surgeries. I couldn't afford to take my medication after I lost my job. And I need to work another seven years before I can retire at 62."

'Mixed emotions'

Sonny Poor was president of the local union when the jobs left town.

"It's mixed emotions even after all this time," he said. "I still miss doing what I was doing, and you miss the people you worked with. You kind of have the feeling that everything you did was for nothing and it feels kind of empty.

"But," he added, "I have other things I'm working towards, and that keeps me going."

"We need a confidence builder," Fry said. "It strips you of your confidence when you lose your job. I'm afraid it will happen again."

Fry said that he "has to accept that I'll have to settle for a $7 job - and we have to compete with several million illegal immigrants for that.

"It's not just the glass industry," he said. "It's everything."

That's been exactly Lorinda Buckner's experience. After looking for work for several months she found a night job at a factory about 15 miles away that pays her $6.10 an hour. She had earned more than $11 an hour at Indiana Glass.

"The 10 [cents] is my night shift bonus," she said. "It's been rough working at whatever job I could find until I started this one two weeks ago."

Instead of driving about two miles a day to work, she is now driving 30 miles a day at a time when gasoline is approaching $2 a gallon.

A ripple effect

Many former Indiana Glass employees are furthering their education through WorkForce One.

According to Phil Gross, career consultant for dislocated workers at Jay County Employment and Training Services, 189 former Indiana Glass employees signed up for WorkForce One services and programs.

Of those enrolled, 38 are in training for degrees or job certification programs; 23 are working toward their GED, 73 are employed, 40 are actively searching for jobs and 15 are no longer accounted for.

The loss of so many jobs at one time has a ripple effect over the area. Indiana Glass employees commuted to Dunkirk from all parts of Jay County as well as Delaware, Blackford and Randolph counties.

Not too long ago the Indiana Glass Company was Jay County's third-largest employer and accounted for about 20 percent of the city's $1.2 million annual budget.

Sam Hubbard became mayor of Dunkirk on Jan. 1. He is also head of the local chamber of commerce, has been a real estate appraiser and until recently was head of the city's industrial development corporation.

The loss of the Indiana Glass jobs hurts, Hubbard admitted, "but we're still surviving, we're up and running and we're not in too bad of shape, really."

Hubbard said that each department head is watching the monthly budget and cutting down where he can.

"We're all watching what we spend," he said, "But we can probably do what we want to here in the city. We may have to cut out some of the frills, but with planning we'll be all right."

600450 Former Indiana glass employees 'still surviving'
Date: 16 March 2004

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