As agencies scramble to handle layoffs, officials note finding other jobs is 'going to be really tough'

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
As news of 1,360 more layoffs spread through Rowan County on Friday, local agencies geared up to help the displaced workers.
Lou Adkins, community development coordinator for the Salisbury Community Development Corp., said news of 1,290 upcoming layoffs at Freightliner and 70 job losses due to the closing of Carter Furniture is even more depressing due to the scarcity of jobs. In the past, she said people getting laid off “felt like there was a job that they could get somewhere.”
“With all these layoffs and so few jobs,” she said, “I think it’s going to be really, really tough.”
Adkins said three of the Freightliner employees who will be losing their jobs with the discontinuation of the second shift effective March 13 called her Thursday after the announcement was made.
She had worked with all three of them after the truck manufacturing company’s layoff last June, and they all opted to go back when a partial second shift was reinstated in August.
Robbie Stevens, housing counselor for the Salisbury Community Development Corp., said even more calls came in on Friday.
The agency offers housing counseling and two programs to help displaced workers pay their mortgages. The first program, funded by the Rowan County United Way, offers a one-time mortgage payment up to a specific amount to anyone who has been laid off.
The second is the Home Protection Program offered through the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to provide interest-free loans to displaced workers who opt to go back to school. Stevens said those who qualify could get their mortgages paid for up to 24 months and will have 15 years to pay back the loan.
The Salisbury Community Development Corp. also offers housing default counseling that includes Adkins and Stevens contacting lenders to negotiate on behalf of clients who have mortgages with predatory lenders or who have fallen behind on payments due to a reduction in income or medical bills. “There’s a lot of options that may be available out there,” Stevens said.
Debbie Davis, manager of the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina/JobLink Center in Salisbury, said employment consultants will likely meet with the Freightliner employees in groups and explain the different application processes to ensure that they meet all the deadlines for unemployment and other benefits for which they qualify.
The meetings are either held on-site or at another facility that can accommodate large groups. “Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is very good to work with us,” she said.
Davis said the Employment Security Commission has hired several temporary workers to help with the large volume of people coming in to apply for unemployment benefits or look for jobs. “There is a little longer wait than usual,” she said, “and the telephone lines are often busy when people try to call, but we are handling it.”
In her 25 years working with the Employment Security Commission, Davis said she has not seen the local economy like it is today.
Though Rowan has had high unemployment rates before, such as with the 2003 closing of Pillowtex, she said, “We’re seeing some companies which have never had to have layoffs … and some people coming in that are telling us they’ve never had to draw unemployment benefits before.”
Davis said people coming in to apply for benefits are concerned about finding new jobs and how long it might take. “We have some job openings that we’re working with,” she said, “but we’d like to have more.”
Among the jobs available are health-care jobs, a human resources position, a few restaurant jobs, jobs requiring practical skills such as listings for an experienced mechanic and an experienced seamstress. The government is also hiring for people to help conduct the 2010 Census in Rowan County.
Davis said people can apply for jobs on the Employment Security Commission Web site at Displaced workers can also check the benefit estimator on the Web site to see how much their unemployment benefits will be.
Other Rowan County agencies offer services to displaced workers. The YMCA of Rowan County, for example, offers three months of free membership and day care for people when they look for jobs or go on interviews, according to Chief Executive Officer Jamie Morgan.
Morgan said the Y gets a list of all displaced employees, so those who want to take advantage of the free membership offer just need to show their employee ID at the front desk of any of the three branches.
“We know that a lot of workers are going through this,” he said. “If we can help in some small way to make this less painful, that’s what we try to do.”
To contact Lou Adkins with Salisbury Community Development Corp., call 704-638-2154. Robbie Stevens can be reached at 704-638-5383.
Call the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina at 704-639-7529 and the YMCA at 704-216-9622.