Plant workers step back into the job market

By The Associated Press September 03, 2013 08:54 am

HERMISTON — Employees who were destroying nerve gas and other chemical weapons at an Eastern Oregon plant knew all along that the chore — and their jobs there — would come to an end. It's still a shock, though.

"I knew it was a temporary thing, but I don't think it really click at the time," said Clint Shoemake, who was recently laid off. "When you're 19 and they're saying it's closing in 2014 or 2015, that seems like forever."

The next planned reduction of employees of the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility is in March. That cut will reduce the current workforce by half, the East Oregonian reported.

About a quarter of the workers already laid off went directly to other jobs with URS — the company overseeing the facility's closure — at other plants closing in places like Colorado and Kentucky. Up to 14 percent of the other workers left the Oregon plant before their scheduled reduction.

URS doesn't keep track of the remaining displaced workers, protocol manager Hal McCune said.

Most workers know their layoff dates more than a year beforehand. URS gives workers formal notices 60 days in advance.

Shoemake, now 31, began looking for a new job about six months before his Aug. 1 layoff. He has found limited options for jobs that would pay what he had been making.

"Jobs that I qualify for outside of that realm are not near the pay of that magnitude," Shoemake said. "There's a lot of opportunity (at URS) but you have to be willing to move."

Shoemake, who is married and has a teenage nephew in his care, didn't want to move from Hermiston to another URS project.

Since completing destruction of chemical weapons in late 2011, the East Oregon facility has cut almost 700 jobs. There are 165 employees left.