For Mechanicsville resident Casper Brown, knowing that a job he’d had for more than 20 years would suddenly end after just over a month came as a shock and presented a new challenge in his life.
But it is a challenge that he takes step by step.
“I’m too old to start over,” said Mr. Brown, “but I’m also too young to retire, so I have to work.” A mechanic at a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Glen Allen, Mr. Brown was shocked along with nearly 700 other plant employees when the company announced in mid-March that the plant would close on May 12. Despite this sudden setback, Mr. Brown and the other Tyson employees are determined to find a new way forward.
“I think I will be able to find a job,” said Mr. Brown, who recently had colon surgery and is currently on short-term disability leave. “I hope.” Mr. Brown was just one of many Tyson employees and other workers looking for opportunities, help and guidance during a job fair hosted by the Local 400 Food and Commercial Workers Union at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church last Saturday.
The streets around the church were lined with cars throughout the morning and afternoon, as the church’s basement was bustling with activity and discussions between workers and employers hoping to offer a range of business and job opportunities.
Henrico County Public Schools’ departments of pupil transportation and food service, Virginia Career Services and the American Packaging Company were among the organizations at the job fair.
Financial advisors were also on hand to assist Tyson workers who had concerns about their workplace savings, retirement plans, or other questions in the wake of the sudden plant closure.
“Persons Tyson, I don’t want you guys to feel sad — pick up the phone, call somebody,” said Caroline Woody, Human Resources Coordinator at Boar’s Head, during the job fair’s opening minutes. “Anyone who wants to get on board, you’re welcome.”
The sense of community and solidarity among those at the job fair was a sharp contrast to the decision that brought them to Wesley Memorial, and warmth was present throughout the event that matched the sunny weather outside the church.
It’s the community connection and interest that fueled the creation of the job fair, according to UFCW Local 400 Vice President Donna Waddell. The group has partnered with Boar’s Head, a meat supplier, and Wesley Memorial in the past for community events.
Wesley Memorial Pastor Rodney L. Hunter and Mrs. Waddell also share a connection through SCLC, serving as Richmond Chapter President and serving as part of the National Council, making the church an easy choice for hosting a job fair.
Meanwhile, Ms. Waddell has been quickly approached by various companies and organizations in the wake of Tyson Foods’ announcement of the closing of the Glen Allen plant, and she is eager to find new employees.
“That is why we are here today,” said Mrs. Waddell. “Trying to help them find good jobs with good benefits and good wages.”
Workers seeking new employment or job fair assistance differed in terms of age, race, and job experience, and each had their own goals and expectations for their future work. some
Many of the attendees, like Mr. Brown, sought to ensure that they would receive certain benefits as part of their new jobs, whether it be health insurance, a dental plan, or a 401K plan.
Others had simpler goals when it came to their work. Ruth Champ, a housekeeper at the Jefferson Hotel who heard about the job fair through friends at Tyson’s, was hoping to move from her current seven-day job to a less stressful five-day job that didn’t require her to work. Weekends, he was more than ready for a change.
“When someone calls,” said Mrs. Champ, “I’ll be ready to go.”
And while efforts to secure compensation from Tyson for Glen Allen workers have been unsuccessful, prospects for employees look very bright, with some already starting new jobs at Boar’s Head in Petersburg, according to Ms. Waddell.
“Everything we can do to steer them in the right direction to get a good job with good benefits, that’s what we try to do,” Ms. Waddell said.