December 22, 2012

After Hostess, a new world

The newly jobless in their 50s are striving to move forward while hoping for the best.

By Gillian Graham
Staff Writer

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In the past six years, Prescott watched as sales routes were consolidated and customers turned to other companies for baked goods. With a steady stream of corporate executives coming and going and more requests for concessions from the unions, it was not hard to predict what would come next. Prescott saw the end of Hostess as a chess match: The company couldn't afford anything other than concessions, but the bakers union said no.

"It was the beginning of the end," he said. "It really wasn't a joke. The company was going to falter if they walked."

Even after the bakers walked out, Prescott said he was in denial about what that would mean for his job.

"We all thought maybe the big white knight would come riding in and save the company," he said.

But it didn't work out that way. Prescott got the call to stay home one week after the strike began.

"You're angry. You're in denial. You're sad," he said. "There's a gamut of emotions you go through. Seventeen years ... gone."

Prescott, a shop steward, said other Teamsters have told him he seems too passive about the bakery union's decision to strike. He is more concerned about the company executives who will receive a total of nearly $2 million in bonuses while the company is liquidated and its workers laid off. Now, he's focusing on finding a job and figuring out how to stretch his weekly $372 unemployment check.

Prescott and his wife, Nora, live in a modest rental home on a dead-end street in the Stroudwater section of Portland. They don't carry any debt, which he hopes will help them as he looks for a new job. His wife has been picking up as many as 16 extra hours a week working in coffee shops at Maine Medical Center so the couple can avoid dipping into their savings. For now they will go without health insurance because they can't afford to deduct any more from her paycheck.

"(My wife) has gone above and beyond. She's put in hours you can't ask of anybody," Prescott said.

Prescott spends his days navigating a digital world he has little experience with. Gone are the days when he would fill out an application, walk into a business and shake someone's hand. He now browses job listings on his laptop and submits resumes online.

"There's no personal touch," he said. "It's a whole new world for me."

Dawn Self-Cooper, acting manager of the CareerCenter in York County, said it is not unusual to see people like Prescott.

"We have many people who come in who have not looked for a job in many, many years. In the past, they've been able to walk in and introduce themselves and be offered a job," she said. "The first thing is to acknowledge things are very different today than they used to be."

Prescott is pursuing a commercial driver's license that would allow him to drive larger delivery trucks, and hoping there are enough customer service jobs out there to fill his last few years of employment.

Despite his optimism, he still finds it hard to believe he's looking for a new job at this point in his life, six years away from retirement.

"I'm in a different place," he said. "It's not the place I wanted to be." 


Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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