Uncertainty at business difficult for employees

Published 5:29 am Monday, May 13, 2013

Marlene Cordova worried something was amiss at Austin Packaging Company when her work shifts started to disappear. Previously at full-time, the worker said her schedule was cut down dramatically to about two days a week. Word later started to circulate layoffs were on the horizon.

“They were only rumors,” she said, adding the whole time she was thinking, “I hope it’s not true.”

It worked out in the end for Cordova, an Austin resident for the last 13 years, but she had been employed at APC for two years when she found out the company was letting her go as part of a mass layoff at the end of March. At the time, she worked packaging pizzas in the company’s pizza line, where most of the company’s 76 laid-off workers had been employed. But unlike most of the others laid off in March, APC asked Cordova to return, and on Monday, she started again part-time, working between 24 and 32 hours per week.

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The line itself, which manufactured Nestlé-owned pizzas such as Tombstone and DiGiorno, has been closed. The company will now focus on manufacturing frozen and liquid sauces, such as cheeses, gravy, Alfredo and Asian-flavored sauces.

“I like that job,” she said. “It was my place.”

The job was part of Cordova’s life in Austin. She and her two sons live not far away, and she relied on the position for her livelihood.

About a week before the layoffs, Cordova said, she got a letter saying the company may have to close.

The following Friday morning, on March 29, Cordova and all the other workers at APC were called for a general meeting. It was then the company announced the pizza line was going to close and about half the workers would be laid off and given severance packages, the size of which would depend on how long a worker had been with the company. Counselors were available to help workers with their transition.

Workers who were being laid off were told not to worry, Cordova said. Members of the local Workforce Development chapter said they would call companies and refer workers for other open positions. They mentioned Select Foods in Albert Lea would likely take interest in the laid-off workers because of their experience, she said.

In the time following her dismissal, she spent days worrying about her situation and trying to find new work. Bills and other expenses continued to come in.

“I felt sad,” she said. “My mind went through a lot of, ‘what am I going to do?’”

For a short time, Cordova worked a temporary position in Ellendale, Minn., about 45 minutes’ drive from Austin. The $9-per-hour job had her working 32 hours a week for a few weeks. Meanwhile, she spent upwards of $60 per week on gas.

The work helped tide her over in the short term. Cordova said she and other workers heard about recruitment efforts from neighboring states. Some of these offers included prompt starting dates and monetary assistance in relocating.

These offers tempted Cordova, who said she thought about leaving Austin even though she wanted to keep living there, but her temporary position in Ellendale was coming to a close.

Now, working at APC again, Cordova said she hopes the Austin Packaging facility can be brought back to full staff to create more jobs for the community and allow families to stay in Austin.