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Feature Article - October 20, 2005

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Feature Article

October 20, 2005

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ArchiveImage GalleryAlgonquin Land Claims

Gray MerriamLegaleseGeneral information and opinion on legal topics by Rural Legal ServicesNature Reflectionsby Jean GriffinNight Skiesby Leo Enright

What do you do when your heart starts to pound?

Editorial by Ann Elvins

I looked at the 4 x 6 inch photograph. Everyone was smiling ~ let’s play ball. It was the summer of 2005 and the workers at the Saputo cheese factory in Harrowsmith had formed a baseball team. A mixture of guys and gals, arms slung casually over shoulders looked out at me from the photo. Even the plant manager was running the bases.


It was a good summer for all who worked at the cheese factory. Money was being invested. The plant continued to be upgraded. There seemed little reason for concern when the “big guys” arrived from Quebec for a plant meeting on October 12. Few of the 89 plant employees were aware that weeks earlier, on September 28, Saputo announced the closure of a cheese and by-product manufacturing plant in Whitehall, PA. This closure affected 115 employees of the largest dairy producer in Canada. With 45 plants across Canada, the USA and in Argentina Saputo was about to announce that they were giving up on Harrowsmith. The letter handed to each employee reads in part: “...after a lengthy review of the current situation and careful consideration of possible alternatives, a difficult decision was made to permanently close the Harrowsmith facility in phases from now, October 12 until June of 2006.”

So what do you do when your heart starts to pound, when your mind begins to race, when you hear the news that just 9 weeks before Christmas you are about to lose your job, your pay cheque?

For some of the younger workers it appears to be a window of opportunity. I have spoken with 3 employees who are thrilled that Saputo may find suitable positions for them in Burnaby, British Columbia. As well, the company has promised to do its best to find suitable positions for the older workers. I’m told there is a plant in Trenton. The details concerning these “possible” transfers are yet to be determined by the company. And, knowing that it will be impossible to incorporate all of the 89 workers into other plants Saputo has retained the services of Knightsbridge GSW, a career transition service from Toronto, to provide assistance to those employees who need “job search” guidance.

So it’s not like Saputo has simply walked away. Yet, what about the hard-working guy who in 33 years of employment at the cheese factory has only taken 4 sick days? What about the gal whose husband is disabled and she is the sole breadwinner? What about the guy with a grade 8 education who is 55 years old and according to one employee, “could run this plant with his eyes closed.” What will happen to these people? Job training, moving expenses, education programs are just empty words. And, what about Harrowsmith. Our sense of village.

We have been hit hard – right where it hurts the most. Last month the Anglican church gave up two churches; one in Verona the other in our village. Wycott’s the local pub and meeting place gone. M&J’s Eats and Treats, where you could get the best cup of coffee on Hwy #38 gone. What will follow now that that there are fewer people to rent videos at the local store, to buy pop and pizza. What about the schools that depended on Saputo for help with fund-raising. Every local organization with a good cause could count on the plant manager providing cheese baskets. Yes, the impact on this community is far reaching. If only we could back to the good old days when the plant was owned by a family. When you could walk in on a summer day and know that you were about the get a couple 3 dip ice-cream cones and a bag of cheese scraps for less than five bucks.

Well, those days are gone for this village.

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