Jewish World Review Jan. 26, 2004 / 3 Shevat, 5764

Mike Barnicle

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Consumer Reports

The pols jabber while the jobs keep vanishing | MANCHESTER, N.H. — A couple of days ago, I sat in my car, which was parked in one of the true symbols of the corporate corruption that has ruined so many workers' lives, wondering why the presidential candidates weren't as angry about economics as they seem to be about war. It was the empty employee parking lot of Tyco International in Exeter, a quaint, preppy village about 30 miles east of Manchester.

The building is new and as abandoned as the lot. It is actually a campus where nearly 1,000 were employed until the company's CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, got caught looting. He is now on trial for being a pig who ran the place as if he, rather than shareholders, owned it.

I sat there looking at the building, thinking it was a good symbol of the type of greed and larceny that lunge after pensions and 401(k) plans like a career felon on the street.

Leaving, I drove past dozens of political signs for one Democrat or another. I pulled into Manchester and saw something I had never noticed here before: about 40 men and women, all of them members of minority groups. At first, I figured they were imported for Al Sharpton, but they had the weary look of those just off an assembly line.

They were from several different countries - African nations as well as Vietnam, Cambodia and El Salvador - and their destination was the food processing factory owned by Tyson Foods, out of Springdale, Ark., Bill Clinton's home state.

"We cut meat," a tall young man named Abraham told me. "I'm from Sudan. I have been here five months. This is a good job for me, but it is a disappearing one."

"Did they tell you?" a man asked as he came out of the building where the company's human resources office is located. "Last day of work is Feb. 3 - 550 jobs gone."

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Along with Abraham and the roster of other refugees and aliens charged with processing poultry, the man, who is from Romania, is doing a job that a lot of Americans simply won't do. And now even this one is disappearing in a state where an awful lot of people keep moving lower on the skill ladder to have a paycheck. One company closes, replaced by another with lower wages. One day, it's a machine shop. The next, it's a fast-food restaurant in a suburban mall.

The guy makes $8.50 an hour. He has a wife, a daughter and a car that will soon take him to the unemployment office on Hanover St. here, where he will get $372 a week for as many as 26 weeks. "They are having a job fair here Friday for us," he said. "Thirty companies coming, they tell us. Maybe I find a job there. I need the health [insurance]. That's the important thing, get the health."

One company, Tyco, looted its employees' future. Another, Tyson, can find workers elsewhere. And all this is happening in a place where people who want to be President go around telling voters how angry they are about the state of the union under President Bush while workers remain frightened by a week without pay.

JWR contributor Mike Barnicle is a columnist for the New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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