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

(Continued from page 3)

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Sue Tapley was four years from retirement when she lost her job as a mixer in the bakery.

Sue Tapley has found plenty to keep her busy in the weeks since she emptied her locker and walked out of the Hostess bakery in Biddeford for the last time.

There are Christmas parties to attend, quilting and knitting projects to keep her busy, and her "Hostess family" to keep in touch with. Decisions about what comes next will wait until after the holidays.

"I'm kind of in that limbo state trying to decide what I'm going to do," she said, sitting in her Scarborough kitchen, sipping coffee from a Hostess mug. She may retrain for a different career entirely, but she isn't ready to make that decision yet.

At 58, Tapley was four years away from retiring when she lost her job as a mixer in the bakery. She had worked at Hostess for 14 years, a job that offered the wages and benefits she needed. She previously worked for 30 years at the Clambake Seafood Restaurant in Scarborough and for five years at Konica. After working two full-time jobs for years, she was happy to land a job at Hostess, even if it meant working overnight.

"I loved my job, I absolutely loved my job," she said, particularly the relationships she developed with co-workers.

Tapley became even closer to her co-workers while they all stood on the picket line. Some people brought woks and cooked for everyone, while passersby stopped with offers to help. Union members are planning a potluck after the holidays and keep in touch through a website they set up.

"It was amazing the solidarity we had with each other," she said. "We're trying to stay close. It makes you feel a part of everything, even though you're separate from it."

Even on the picket line, Tapley hoped the company would be able to pull through.

"I think we always in our minds thought things were going to work out," she said. "It wasn't concessions we balked at, it was that they stole our pensions. If I stole that money from the company, I'd be in jail for embezzlement."

The pension issue is of particular concern for Tapley, who had planned to retire at 62.

"That doesn't leave you much time to build that back up," she said.

With her firefighter husband, Gary, out of work following an on-the-job injury, Tapley said they now have no income at all beyond her unemployment check. Her husband does not receive disability for his injury. She doesn't qualify for the maximum amount of unemployment benefits because of work missed earlier this year following surgery. The Tapleys had planned to buy a new car, but shelved it in favor of a vehicle that wouldn't require a monthly payment. Health insurance coverage through COBRA is too expensive, so they're going without, a move Tapley said is her greatest fear.

"It's just a matter of cutting back," she said. "There are luxuries we don't do anymore. So far we're all set, but my heart goes out to the ones who aren't." Tapley, who has lived in the same Pine Point home since she was 5, said her positive outlook has carried her through the stress of losing her job. She looked at job listings, but quickly saw there were few jobs available that wouldn't require retraining. She's not sure if it's worth spending two years training for a job she'd only work for a short time.

"There's not that much manufacturing in the state of Maine anymore," she said.

Yet Tapley isn't allowing herself to be discouraged. Ideally, she said, another company will buy the relatively new Biddeford bakery and put bakers like her back to work.

"In the back of your mind you're always hopeful," she said. "I'd like to get back what I lost."

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: grahamgillian

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