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Back at Mack

Some transferred workers have returned

Some transferred workers have returned

February 10, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

When Paul Wade was given a chance last June to return to the Mack Trucks Inc. powertrain plant north of Hagerstown, he jumped at it.

"This is a blessing. I've been blessed to have a job and to come back to Hagerstown and have a job at Mack Trucks," said Wade, 44, of Hagerstown.

Wade was one of approximately 65 employees at Mack's Winnsboro, S.C., assembly plant who were transferred to Hagerstown last summer after Mack announced it would close the Winnsboro plant. The Winnsboro plant closed in November, with assembly work being transferred to Volvo's New River Valley plant in Dublin, Va.

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Volvo is Mack's parent company.

Several of the 65 transferred workers had worked at the Hagerstown plant in the 1980s and were among 72 workers transferred from Hagerstown to the new Winnsboro plant in 1987.

That year, Mack had 1,000 workers on its layoff list waiting to be called back, according to Herald-Mail archives.

Wade said going to Winnsboro was a "wonderful opportunity" because he was either going to keep working for Mack in South Carolina or take a job at the Jessup, Md., prison because he'd been laid off from Mack's Hagerstown plant.

Engine assembler Larry Miller said the decision to go to Winnsboro was one "we had to make for our future and our family's future."

Miller said he was one of the last Hagerstown workers allowed to transfer to Winnsboro. If he had not been transferred, he would have been laid off, said Miller, who had three school-age sons at the time.

The decision to go to Winnsboro wasn't difficult at all for Jeff Englehart. Englehart had worked at the Hagerstown plant for only about a year before being transferred.

Adjusting to a move


The transition wasn't smooth as the "Yankee" transfers from the Hagerstown and Lehigh Valley, Pa., Mack plants were not accepted at first and the South Carolina plant did not have a union, Wade and Miller said.

"It was a big adjustment culturally, for one thing," said Miller, 48, who lives in the Hedgesville, W.Va., area.

Then there was learning a new job. The men went from working on the engine line to working on an assembly line to make the final product - heavy duty Mack Trucks.

The absence of a union in Winnsboro resulted in a pay cut from $14.46 an hour in Hagerstown to $7 an hour in Winnsboro, Wade said.

"We helped organize the union and everything dramatically changed," Wade said. "It gave the people a chance to use their knowledge and help the product. We were empowered as workers to give our ideas and inputs."

Miller was part of the United Auto Workers team negotiating with Mack officials for a new contract for the Winnsboro workers in fall 2001 when Volvo Global Trucks officials announced they would close the Winnsboro plant. The closure was part of a restructuring program in response to a depressed North American market.

The Winnsboro plant employed 760 people.

"It was a kick in the stomach," Miller said.

When he was transferred to Winnsboro, Miller said he thought the new plant would provide a good future so he could get his 30 years and retire.

Coming home


News of the Winnsboro plant closing shocked the workers even though it would provide some a chance to return home.

"Of course, everyone in the plant was hoping their number would come up to transfer," Englehart said.

At first, Mack transferred approximately 40 workers to the Hagerstown plant, then Englehart became one of an additional 25 transferred to the plant's shop unit.

"I was looking at not having a job so I just snuck in," Englehart said.

"The next guy out was disappointed he didn't get called. Everyone wants to work," Englehart said.

Moving back to the Tri-State area was something Miller had already planned.

"My wife and I had made a decision about three years ago that once I got time for retirement we would move back north to be with our families," Miller said. "The event of the closing just moved that timetable up."

Now Miller is back to doing one of the jobs he did 22 years ago - working on a conveyor line assembling cylinder heads for engines.

The transition wasn't smooth for Miller and Wade.

Because the men kept their seniority when they were transferred back to Hagerstown, some employees with less seniority had ill feelings toward the returning workers, Miller said.

"They felt as though they would be displaced," Miller said.

But there were also older workers who were glad to see their old friends return, Wade said.

Settling in


While Wade, Miller and Englehart were transferred back to the Hagerstown plant last summer, they still haven't settled in completely.

After selling his South Carolina home, Wade is staying with relatives here while he looks for a new home. The move resulted in a broken engagement with his fiance, who stayed in South Carolina to go to college.

"I had to leave family when I went down from Maryland to South Carolina and I kind of had to leave family to leave Carolina and move back to Maryland," Wade said.

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