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Employees deal with plant's final days

November 13, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HANCOCK - The status of 289 jobs was in doubt eight weeks ago when Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland Inc. announced it was shutting its Hancock plant.

Would there be other work for employees elsewhere within the company?

In recent weeks, most employees have found a clear answer: no.

The end - of operations - is near. The plant closes this Friday.

As of this past Thursday, 130 employees had been laid off, including about 30 that day, said Greg Eckhart, Fleetwood's regional manager for human resources.

About 30 others have secured jobs at Fleetwood's Williamsport plant, which employs about 260 people, he said.

Eckhart said there still might be openings at the Somerset, Pa., plant - about 80 miles away.

Fleetwood, which is based in Riverside, Calif., announced in February that it would close the Hancock plant because it's landlocked and has no room to expand.

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In contrast, the Williamsport and Somerset plants "could easily be expanded as demand necessitates," the company said in a prepared statement when it announced the closure.

Fleetwood has produced travel trailers and "fifth wheel" recreational vehicles in Hancock since 1969.

At one time, the assembly line built 20 trailers a day, before there were many models and variations, Eckhart said.

"It was like bees in a hive," he said. "We had over 300 people in here."

Actually, there were more. In a short 1995 story, The Herald-Mail noted, "With 440 employees, Fleetwood has been the largest employer in Hancock since London Fog closed its doors last October."

On Thursday afternoon, the last three towed trailers that will be made in Hancock - two Pegasus models and one Orbit - sat at the end of the assembly line, awaiting final touches that likely will be made this week.

In the plant's waning days, with more and more employees gone, production dropped to four trailers a day, Eckhart said.

He said Fleetwood has given employees time away from work to look for other jobs or get help with their rsums.

On Thursday afternoon, most of the stream of employees flowing out of the building did not want to talk to The Herald-Mail for this story.

A few didn't mind.

James Davis, 39, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said he worked in assembly at Fleetwood for about two years.

For much of that stretch, he was unhappy.

"This had to be about the worst company I ever worked for in my life," he said.

He said he thought he was being moved to the overnight shift for a short time, but it lasted for many months.

"We kept asking about (switching back)," he said.

Asked later about this, Eckhart said the plant added an afternoon and evening shift and an overnight shift, and kept both "as long as we could" before stopping them.

Davis said he moved to the area from Delaware to be near his parents when they retired. He plans to look for another job, but will be selective.

Bobby Stevens, 36, of Cumberland, Md., said he's done fiberglass repairs at Fleetwood for the last two years.

Now, with his job being eliminated, "I think I'll work for myself," he said matter-of-factly.

He said he used the nearly two months of lead time Fleetwood provided to start the process of creating his own business: fiberglass repair and home remodeling.

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