America Standard, November 23rd, 2:45 PM.
It is cold, not see your breath cold, but chilly nonetheless. I wear my late Uncle Larry’s Army jacket and my father is in a brown pullover and jeans. It is the first time he’s been back to the plant since it’s closing over a decade ago in 2007. Amazingly, the side of the factory he once worked in still remains standing. He points to a set of blue doors and quietly remarks, “These are my doors; I walked through them everyday, thousands of times”.
This is not his story alone; roughly 200 men and women lost their livelihoods in December 2007, when the plant announced its closing. 500 others had lost their jobs during a series of layoffs starting in 2003. I am reminded of them all as I stand knee deep in rubble, cement and rebar jagged against the November sky. In ten short years weeds have taken over, giant potholes open up beneath the once well kept asphalt. It feels post-apocalyptic with shards of porcelain and animal bones strewn haphazardly about. As we leave my father states, “I can’t believe how much of my life I gave to this place”.
He is not alone in this sentiment. Recently I have been connecting with former employees through social media. I am amazed with how open and honest they all have been. When asked their opinion on the situation, this is what one worker had to say:
“It’s sad to drive past this place on 4th Avenue and see how they left [it]. What’s sad is the way they left us. I think of rules that they imposed on us. The “Point System” – no sick days. How they made so many believe that the holiday check that you were receiving at the end of the year was actually money that they withheld whenever you were off for a holiday. The real reason they actually held this money in the bank was to gather the interest from every hard working person’s check. But we showed up for work. We did our jobs. We worked when we were forced over. Some of us worked through holidays, our kid’s birthdays. We worked all kinds of hours. Some of us worked “fourth” shift. Don’t try to explain this to anyone who wasn’t a potter. They won’t understand. We dealt with the heat, dust and tonnage. Tonnage of product that we all lifted everyday. Whether you were in the cast shop, buildings with names like cell block 68, 4, the slab. Or maybe in the kiln shed whether you were a placer or drawer. You could have been a sprayer or line loader or ware hustler. Maybe a mold maker, case maker or worked in the “cage”. Let’s not forget the glaze and slip house workers, or the testers, packers and finally the warehouse. We all survived whatever they handed down to us. We are still here, we are survivors. I will never work with a harder working group of people the rest of my life. Are we still pissed for how it went down? If you said no, then you’re lying to yourself. Or better yet, have you bought a A.S product since 2007?”
If you or someone you know is a former Standard employee I would love to be in contact. This is a complex story that deserves to be told; the more voices that are heard, the more honest this narrative will be.
Kaitlyn Jo Smith