Sandy Rolf worked through the ranks of Wheaton Inc.'s blow molding plant in Centralia, Ill., making her way from silk screener to the person in charge of ISO certification. Last year, she was elected union president.
She recites quickly the history of her 30 years with the firm, watching the plant transition from family ownership through several corporate parents including its latest, and apparently the last: Alcan Inc. Now the plant is closing.
She laments the loss to the city of Centralia, population 14,000, of a plant that has been the lifeblood for so many families.
``My daughter works there. Married couples, fathers and sons. There are so many family members that are going to lose their jobs and have to start all over,'' Rolf said in a Dec. 1 telephone interview.
Workers and local economic development officials had heard rumors that the plant might close, but held out hope.
``In the back of my mind, I thought it could happen,'' Rolf said. ``In my heart, I hoped that it wouldn't.''
In the past two months, Alcan officials moved out 11 machines as they shifted pharmaceutical work to plants in Des Plaines, Ill., and Youngsville, N.C. Workers at Centralia were going to focus on health and cosmetics packaging.
Workers on the plant's morning shift heard the news Nov. 30, that Montreal-based Alcan will close the blow molding site by March. The 86,000-square-foot plant has been in operation since 1969.
The site employed 221 workers, serving accounts like Avon and Aveda.
Union officials with the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International based in Media, Pa., were told it was an irrevocable decision and part of Alcan's plan to realign its pharmaceutical plastic packaging operations.
Alcan plans to handle packaging as a fluid and decentralized business.
``It will positively impact our other plants that are in this operation because they will be getting the production volumes,'' said Alcan spokesman Alexander Christen in a Dec. 1 telephone interview. ``[The work] most likely will stay in the United States. Customers and markets move and we want to be right there with them.''
Christen said Alcan will be working with union officials to help employees with retraining and job placement.
Alcan aggressively has been restructuring its packaging portfolio, including plant closures and sales of businesses in Europe. Last year, it closed another former Wheaton Inc. site in Mays Landing, N.J., to pare costs and boost volume.
As for Rolf, she's staying put as long as possible.
``I'm going to ride it out. I've been there too many years not to get my fair share,'' she said.