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Workers feeling slumping economy

AP and staff reports

COLUMBUS – The holiday created to celebrate the American worker may not have been such a joyous day this year for nearly 27,000 Ohioans.

Tuesday, September 04, 2001

COLUMBUS – The holiday created to celebrate the American worker may not have been such a joyous day this year for nearly 27,000 Ohioans.

That’s the number of manufacturing jobs lost statewide since last Labor Day, mostly as the result of a nationwide economic downturn.

More than 3,000 of those jobs have been lost in central Ohio, where businesses including Lucent and Columbus Coated Fabrics in Columbus, Owens Corning in Newark and Kenworth Truck in Chillicothe have announced either layoffs, job cuts or plant closings.

”I’ve been trying to find other work, but there’s nothing for us that is as well paying,” said Cecilia Mikla, who had worked 22 years at Lucent Technologies’ Columbus Works before being laid off in April.

More than 1,000 workers have lost jobs in recent months at the plant, which has been sold.

The labor picture in Lawrence County and its surrounding area has felt similar lost-job pressures since September last year.

With the Ironton community’s economy suffering under Ironton Iron’s announced closure, and still feeling the effects of Cabletron’s departure, River Valley Health System began a downsizing based on what hospital leaders called a Medicare failing.

Federal and state legislators also began a campaign to protect jobs at the Piketon uranium plant, but that plant is now closed.

By this winter, RVHS announced its closure as well, which resulted in hundreds of lost jobs and benefits paid out in the local economy.

State employment information shows that the past year’s slump has affected most sectors of the economy – hospitals included – but manufacturing has been hardest hit.

That isn’t a complete surprise, considering that manufacturing is more sensitive to economic slowdowns than are other areas of the economy, experts say.

Some labor leaders believe federal free-trade policies have helped fuel the slowdown and say that if steps aren’t taken to protect U.S. manufacturing jobs, the entire economy will suffer.

”If we do not manufacture products, something of value to sell, our standard of living is going to continue to slip and slip,” said Bill Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO.

There are good-paying jobs in other sectors that are still growing – including engineering and architectural services jobs that average $828.80 in weekly pay, compared with $638.58 for manufacturing.

But that doesn’t help the worker with limited education who could earn as much as $20 an hour at the Lucent plant.

”What happens to these people who don’t have technical skills? The answer is they get left behind,” said Bill LaFayette, manager of economic analysis for the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

The news may not be all bad for manufacturing, however.

Tax cuts and interest-rate reductions will begin to boost investment and consumer spending, helping stabilize manufacturing by the end of the year and allowing growth in 2002, according to a forecast by the National Association of Manufacturers.

”The recent data has been somewhat favorable and suggests that we are near a turning point,” said Jerry Jasinowski, the association’s president.