Farmland employees grapple with difficult decisions

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2001

Linda Cornick sat in the shade outside Albert Lea High School, waiting for a co-worker to join her.

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Linda Cornick sat in the shade outside Albert Lea High School, waiting for a co-worker to join her.

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She’d just listened to the words of Farmland Foods President George Richter, and picked up her final paycheck.

&uot;I’m kind of scared,&uot; Cornick admitted regarding the news that if Farmland Foods does decide to rebuilt the Albert Lea plant, there will be no production in the facility for the next 12 to 18 months.

Cornick has worked at the plant since 1983, when it was owned by Wilson and Co. For the last seven or eight years, she’s worked on the bacon line.

&uot;It’s hard work, but I could live on it, and help my kids out when they needed it,&uot; she said. &uot;I really enjoyed it.&uot;

But now, the Albert Lea woman doesn’t know what she’ll do without insurance until she finds other work.

&uot;It’s not as bad as last time when the plant shut down,&uot; Cornick said. &uot;Then I had three kids at home. Now, they’re off on their own.&uot;

Steve Marlin has been with the plant for 23 years, on the loading dock and spotting trailers.

&uot;It didn’t sound too optimistic,&uot; he said of the plant’s possibility of reopening. But he plans to stay in the area.

&uot;I’ve got a few apps out around town,&uot; Marlin said.

Dave Williams of Geneva spent 40 years working at the plant, the first 12 years in the sheep kill, and the last 28 or so on the loading dock.

&uot;It’s heart-breaking,&uot; he said. &uot;I was just starting to feel comfortable with the way things were going.&uot;

He said he had just gone to bed Sunday night when his daughter called to tell him the plant was on fire. &uot;I was pretty sure they wouldn’t have us working Monday, but I was there at 4 a.m., looking over the hill,&uot; Williams recalled. &uot;I’ll miss it.&uot;

After a vacation he’s had planned for a long time, Williams plans to look for work in the area.

Roger Christensen, a 34-year plant employee, said he could wait things out if he knew for sure the plant would be open again in a year.

&uot;It’s tough when you’ve got that many people out of work,&uot; he said.

Eugene Block of New Richland, who spent 8 1/2 years as a lead person in smoked meats, said he was headed out to look for another job.

One employee said she was impressed with the amount of help the community was offering to the employees. Twenty-four agencies/ institutions were on hand to offer support and information.

Jean Eaton, executive director the United Way of Freeborn County, said people were asking lot questions of the agencies.

&uot;The community is really showing its support, telling these people we want to keep them in the community,&uot; she said.

Wanda Newson, who has worked at the plant nearly two years, was going to go on vacation before the fire.

&uot;But I don’t think I should spend all of my last paycheck on vacation,&uot; she said.

The support from the community is encouraging, and she’d like to stay here. &uot;It’s basically like a death for us,&uot; she said. &uot;You work with people that long, they’re like part of your family. This is where it’s hitting everybody.&uot;