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Employees Of Closing Plant Share Anxieties02:26

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Bill Frake, Jabil Circuit's Billerica plant manager, took out an ad in the Boston Globe in February, asking companies to hire his employees. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Bill Frake, Jabil Circuit's Billerica plant manager, took out an ad in the Boston Globe in February, asking companies to hire his employees. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Earlier this year, the manager of a plant in Billerica took out an ad in the Boston Globe asking companies to hire the plant's employees, who were about to be laid off.

Companies such as GE, IBM, Sharp, and Philips Medical contract Jabil to build circuit boards for them. With the recession, the orders stopped coming, and Linda Dunn was among the 315 employees gathered in the cafeteria on a Thursday afternoon in February when plant manager Bill Frake told them that the factory was shutting down. What stands out in her mind is how Frake handled it.
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"Very, very impressive, and you had a man stand up that had to tell all these people that were losing their jobs," said Dunn. "He was almost crying — he was so welled up and choked up."

The following Monday, an ad appeared in the Boston Globe in which Frake asked other companies to hire Jabil's employees.

"I personally wasn't prepared for the outcome," Frake said. "You know, to come in that next day and then to have my mailbox overflow with over 60 companies calling with opportunities. Kinda interesting case study in outreach in situations like this. Believe me, it's nothing I could have predicted."

In May, 35 of the plant's 315 employees were laid off. At least eight of them have found jobs already. Five or six expect to get jobs with a Jabil customer along Route 128 that has a dozen positions open. A dozen employees have found jobs on their own. In all, 20 to 30 people have lined something up.

But Sue Feugill plans to use her layoff as an opportunity to take some time off.

"My plans are to stay out of work for at least a year," Feugill said. "And then hopefully by next year the economy will be great and I'll find a good job. I'm taking the winter off, the summer off, and just hanging out with the kids — that's it."

Feugill lives in Methuen. I met her along with six other Jabil employees in a conference room off the Billerica plant's main entrance. Employees such as Linda Dunn, who says she's been at the facility since the beginning, when it started 10 years ago.

"I was here at the beginning when we started this facility 10 years ago, " she said. "These people really care about what they do. It's like a big family here. "

Dunn lives in Ayer with her 20-year-old son and her 14-year-old daughter.

"I'm a single parent," Dunn said. "There's a lot of people out there that are single parents that have children that depend on them and — the way the economy is right now — it's just very bleak, if you want to say, you know, and it's very difficult."

A dozen employees could be relocated to other Jabil plants around the U.S., but Dunn says she won't be one of them.

"You can go," Dunn said, "but you could be there two weeks, and if that facility's not doing well, you could lose your job again. You know, and then you're in a different state, with no family. And then what do you do from there? So that's kind of a scary option for a lot of individuals also."

Others are also trying to figure out their options. Melinda Fontaine, who lives in Sandowne, N.H., is the mother of three adult children.

"I think I might go back to medical," Fontaine said. "I'm not sure what avenue. I used to be a nurse aide, but I don't think I can lift on patients anymore. So I was going to look into maybe becoming a pharmaceutical tech or something like that. And I'm sure I'd probably start out low, but it's an opportunity that you can definitely work your way up. I'm not really sure. I'm still trying to get over this place closing, the shock of it."

One employee, Saray Lorn, who lives in Lowell, is looking to Washington for help.

"Mr. Barack Obama," Lorn said. "Hopefully, he can help the country, and he can keep these jobs from going overseas."

Despite the uncertainty, Ed Floria, who lives in Fitchburg, hangs onto his hope.

"I think everything will be all right," Floria said. "I think — you know — I'm an optimist. I think I'll be all right. Somehow."

Bill Frake, the plant manager, says if the company can place 30 to 40 percent of its workers it can count that as a success in these hard times. So far, the professionals have had an easier time finding jobs than the laborers.

Jabil hopes to place several workers with Raytheon, and has invited the company to a job fair at the end of the month. That's when the state will set up a career counseling center at Jabil.

This program aired on May 18, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.


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