Layoffs have now started at the United Technologies Electronic Control factory in Huntington, Indiana. Although its parent company United Technologies announced more than a year ago that UTEC and its sister company Carrier would move to Mexico, the first round of layoffs just started last Friday, according to a company spokesperson.
Jenni Lobdell had been working at United Technologies Electronic Control for about five years when she got pregnant with her son Mason. Now, 18 years later, Mason also works at UTEC.
When her son was hired, Lobdell says many of her coworkers remembered when he was born.
“For the first two months, that’s all everybody said was, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Jenni’s son.’ They remembered me pregnant with him, and now he’s working there,” Lodbell said.
Lobdell has worked at UTEC for 23 years now. Her husband Chad has worked there for 18. But when their son Mason took the job last year, he knew it would be temporary. United Technologies, a Connecticut-based company, is moving its Indiana factories, Carrier and UTEC, to Mexico.
In February of 2016, United Technologies announced the move, which will cost more than 1,000 Hoosier workers their jobs. About 740 of those jobs will be in Huntington, 40 miles west of Fort Wayne.
The city has a population of 17,000 people. Its mayor, Republican Brooks Fetters, says he thinks the displaced workers will be able to find other jobs in Northeast Indiana. But UTEC employee Lisa Southerland disagrees.
“The mayor says, ‘Oh, we can absorb…’ Really, 700 and some jobs you can absorb? Is he crazy?” she asked.
More Than a Job
It will have an emotional impact on employees like Lisa Southerland, whose husband also worked at UTEC. They met as coworkers in 1991, started dating, and married in 1995.
But in 2011, he died of a sudden heart attack. Her coworkers at the factory were a huge support system after her loss, but she worries they won’t keep in touch after the factory shuts down.
“You say you’re going to, but you know how that is. Life happens,” Southerland said. “You’ll try, but will it be the same? No. That’s going to be our past.”
Although Southerland worries about caring for her 16-year-old daughter alone without a job, and although Jenni Lobdell worries about what will happen to her family now that she, her son and her husband all face unemployment, everyone I talk to says the same thing: they worry about those who have it worse. They worry about people in their 60s who had planned on working a few more years until retirement, but are now unlikely to find a new job. They worry about people without any education, who don’t even have a high school diploma. There are many stories like this.
The first layoffs started March 10, with 50 employees voluntarily leaving, according to a UTEC spokesperson. Layoffs will continue until the factory is completely shut down in 2018.
Southerland says some employees wanted to go because they didn’t want to watch the factory, which has been their lives for decades, disappear. But others, like her, want to hang on until the very last day, when she envisions her close group of friends and colleagues huddled together in the empty factory, saying their goodbyes.