EASTON – This prosperous little town’s holiday season looks grim for up to 10 percent of its working population.
The Towson-based Black & Decker Corp. announced last week that its Easton plant would begin shutting down in early 2003, moving its jobs to places with cheaper labor.
Layoffs begin around March, and about 1,300 workers – mostly from Easton, but some from as far as Pocomoke – will be without jobs by the end of next year.
Only 750 of them are company employees, said Black & Decker spokeswoman Barbara Lucas. The remaining 550 are temporary contract workers.
“It doesn’t put a very bright future on the people that it’s going to affect, naturally,” said Easton Mayor C. Eugene Butler. Holidays or not, “any time is a bad time to state that you’re going to lose your job.”
Black & Decker, whose Easton plant is the town’s largest employer, will provide compensation depending on how long employees have been with the company.
For full-time employees, “it’s generally a minimum of four weeks . . . or a week of severance per year of service at the plant,” Lucas said. Temporary workers received what Lucas called “an incentive plan that ranges anywhere from approximately one to three weeks of pay.”
The company also offers retraining programs for specific skills, and has not ruled out other possible benefits, she added.
At the edge of Easton – the Talbot County seat where nearly a third of the county’s residents live – the power tool-producing plant is surrounded by a wide berth of green lawn. But, just a block down Easton Parkway, a shopping center houses businesses frequented by plant employees.
“To me that was not a good time” to announce the closing, said Donna Spurry, a waitress at the Time Out Tap & Grill, which claims a few evening regulars from among the plant workers. “At least let your employees get through the holidays.”
Spurry said the workers who come regularly to Time Out are mostly locals who have been coming since it opened in 1996, so she didn’t expect too severe an effect on their business.
But in the same shopping center, Exxon worker Sajid Malik said his gas station “must be affected” because Black & Decker workers come by regularly, two or three times a day.
“What can I say about that?” he said. “This is a small town and a big business has gone from here.”
And the manager of the neighboring McDonalds, Emmie Bradley, said she was concerned about the effect of the closing on her restaurant, which serves workers leaving four different shifts at the plant.
Ultimately, though, it’s the workers who are losing their jobs that Easton is concerned about.
“My sympathies go out to them,” Spurry said. “They’ve got to go out and find new jobs – it’s not something I would want to have to do.”
Sgt. Rhonda Thomas of the Easton Police Department said since the announcement, media had been staking out the entrance to the plant, but employees seemed to be avoiding them.
“They’re upset,” said Thomas, noting the plant’s refusal to talk to the media – a fact corroborated by a security guard at the plant. “I think they’re trying to find out what’s going to happen” before they say anything.
The town administration has established a task force to help the laid-off workers, address the economic impact and find new business opportunities for the plant building.
“Whatever we can do to find these workers a paycheck . . . that’s what’s on my mind,” Mayor Butler said. “Those people live from check to check, some of them. We really need to find them some jobs.”
The task force consists of members of the town and county councils, but Butler said its progress was slow because some of its officials are newly elected members waiting to be sworn in on Dec. 2.
Talbot County’s unemployment rate is about 2.6 percent, but the layoffs will hit workers from 10 nearby counties, affecting the entire central Eastern Shore, Butler said. Residents and realtors would feel a “trickle down effect” as the plant slowly shuts down over the next year.
Butler has lived in Easton since 1959, and has served as mayor for almost eight years. “As I said before, we expected it to happen, but we didn’t expect it to happen this soon,” he said, “and you’re never ready for anything like this as far as a small town of 12,000 people is concerned.” – 30 – CNS-11-27-02