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Workers: 'We Were Sold Down the River'

by Staff
Longview, WA, The Daily News, January 20, 2004

The Daily News interviewed four former Reynolds Metals workers Monday about news that the Longview smelter will not be restarted. Here's what they had to say.

"There's nothing we can do about it"

It took Robert Anderson two and a half years to find another job after the Reynolds Metals Co. plant shut down in February 2001.

He worked for Reynolds for 21 years, most recently as a paste wagon driver. Anderson, 57, said he made about $15 an hour, and work was a short drive from his Longview home.

"I'm sorry it's gone, but Alcoa and Reynolds sold us down the river, and there's nothing we can do about it," he said. "They knew what was coming when they sold it to (bankrupt owner Michael) Lynch."

Anderson's new job, as a janitor for a non-profit group in Rainier, pays $9 an hour. He works the graveyard shift. Although the job offers benefits, it doesn't cover the cost of insurance for his wife, Karolyn.

That eats up $350 a month.

"Do you know how hard it is to let your husband go to work for $9 an hour?" Karolyn Anderson asked. "It's really changed how you feel you can spend your money, and how you feel you can approach the world."

She said she hoped that the shutdown would bring closure for some of the workers, many of whom nourished hopes that the plant would reopen.

"Some people didn't believe it (would close permanently), and they didn't change," she said. "Robert and I have been hurt, but we had our finances in order. There's a lot of people that thought they always had a job at Reynolds. They've never had to make these decisions."

-- M.L. Madison

"Times are changing, and that's part of the times"

After 26 years of working at Longview Aluminum, Lyle Barker went back to school. Then he dropped out. He scrounged for jobs. He's still unemployed.

On Monday, when he found out the last-ditch effort to resurrect the smelter failed, he sounded resigned.

"I didn't expect it to open back up. Times are changing, and that's part of the times," Barker said. "There's nothing I can do."

He said he misses the crew, his bosses. When the smelter shut down in early 2001, he was a head tapper.

"It was great working there when it was running."

Barker tried retraining as a machinist and then as an X-ray technician at Lower Columbia College, but after six quarters he ran aground in a challenging anatomy class.

"I really don't want to go back to school," said Barker, 56, who has a wife, Laurel, and three sons, one a teenager and two in their early 20s.

He's hunted for jobs since this summer, but "I get 'Thanks, but no thanks' from people." His unemployment runs out at the end of February.

Barker's not ready to relocate. He will stick it out. He's lived in Longview his entire life.

"I'm going to find a job around here, but I haven't had much luck."

--- Hope Anderson

'This whole area is taking a good hit'

It's back to unemployment limbo for Mike Fowler, who got laid off for the second time in two years Monday.

The former mechanic has had several jobs since being laid off from Longview Aluminum in March 2002, but they had been seasonal, part-time, or didn't pay as well. Fowler, a Kelso resident, said he just lost his most recent job as a technician at Western Fire Center in Kelso.

The Castle Rock native attended one year of college before taking a summer job at Reynolds when he was 19. He stayed for 27 years.

"This has been kind of a mill town, but in the past five years, things have been changing," he said. "This whole area is taking a good hit, and they're all well-paying jobs with benefits."

His wife, Katie, works for the Longview School District. Their two daughters attend Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma.

Fowler, 48, said he and other former coworkers didn't think it was likely that the plant would reopen.

"I really couldn't see it starting back up, unless it was a strategic move ... for someone who didn't need their investment to make money right away."

--- Venice Buhain

'I stuck my neck out'

Rick Hartley, 50, landed on his feet when the plant shut down, turning his sideline karaoke DJ business into Alotta Music, which also sells CDs and DVDs.

"I felt like I stuck my neck out a little too far at the time, but it worked out," said Hartley, who owns the Washington Way shop with his wife, Anna.

Still, he's "a little sorry" that the plant where he worked for 28 years will not reopen.

"I enjoyed my work there. I have nothing to complain about, though I'm a little bitter about my friends who got hurt," said Hartley, who started at the plant when he was 21.

Some workers with decades of seniority hung on, working brief stints at the plant, not knowing whether it would close for good, he said. Meanwhile, newer workers found jobs at Steelscape in Kalama and the paper mill at Wauna, he said.

"The lucky ones were the ones who got laid off first."

"Of course, you get your hopes up when you hear that there are buyers interested," he said. But he and others felt "it would never reopen under" Lynch.


Workers: 'We Were Sold Down the River'
The Daily News, January 20, 2004

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