The Last Good-Bye

by Tess Wheelwright | March 30, 2006 3:53 PM |

Tyrone Reece was counting on two more days to say goodbye to fellow Winchester workers and plan a send-off gathering for Friday, the day the U.S. Repeating Arms plant said it was closing its doors. Instead, Thursday morning he came by the plant one more time to pick up his final check — and plan some fishing.

“We worked hard all morning [Wednesday] packing the last machines out, not knowing it would be our last day. Then at 3 the supervisor called a meeting: it was like a sudden, ‘OK, you’re out!’” he said outside the Winchester plant Thursday. “We thought we’d come in here Friday, have a little party — but that’s the way they do business. It was a slap in the face.”

Reece was one of many Winchester workers surprised to learn on Wednesday that the show was over: employees shouldn’t bother to come to work the next two days as planned, supervisors said. Even sooner than expected, then, 186 Winchester workers found themselves out of a job Thursday — besides figuring out what to do with themselves after picking up their last checks.

“You get used to getting up at 5 in the morning and going to work. Monday morning, where am I going to go?” said Reece. “We all knew this was coming, but when it actually gets here, it hits hard.”

“I’ve been — I was — a worker in gun assembly for 19 years,” said Reece, lingering in his truck, hoping to see a few of his former fellow workers another time. “There was no time to say goodbye.”

He said he thought with training money being provided through the Department of Labor, he’d try out welding. But said he is in no rush to find income beyond unemployment checks. “I told my wife: the whole summer, I’m going to fish.”

A Last Slap

“I’m not surprised at the way they acted,” said Craig Gauthier (pictured), the chair of the Winchester Citizens Ad Hoc Committee and a leader since January of the fight to keep the Winchester factory open. He said that by 4 o’clock Wednesday, he’d already gotten upset calls from workers insulted to have been given the early send-off. “I said they were playing a shell game all along, and they played a shell game at the end. Still, people are pretty upset about the way they did it.”

Gauthier said he hated to see a last indignity dealt to workers who had been through so much, fighting first to keep the plant open and then for good worker benefits.

“People are pretty much beaten down,” said Gauthier. He said his group and other union workers had made a last trip up to the state capitol on Tuesday, but that “you could see in their demeanor it was over. They thought is was just a last thing to illustrate the fight was still in them.”

The fight was still in Gauthier, too: he had bitter words about USRAC, whose plan for the past four years, he said, “was to dismantle the plant and spread it out over places where people can’t make 15 or 20 dollars an hour.” He said the company Savage Arms had been to the plant as a potential buyer in the past few days, “But when they looked at what was left there, they said thanks but no thanks.” Gauthier said trying to sell a gun plant without swedge machines — the equipment removed from the factory by the company back in December — was like trying to sell a car without an engine.

Finally, Gauthier said he was disappointed with union president John Reynolds for not building a bigger team of unions and activists to show the U.S. Repeating Arms the strength of workers — and disappointed in Gov. Jodi Rell for her silence throughout.

“We were disappointed by Rell,” seconded Tyrone Reece on Thursday. “She didn’t say anything about us. Stop and Shop she was there, Sikorsky [Aircraft] she was there, but she acted like she didn’t even know us. That was another slap in the face.”

He Was Getting Bored

Richard Carrano (pictured), a Winchester worker in gun testing, was also waiting around outside the plant Thursday to get in a few final farewells. An employee of 45 years, Carrano would have been retiring April 1 even if the gun plant weren’t, he said. With pensions from both the union and the company, he said he felt “pretty good” on Thursday, and hadn’t minded the early boot the day before.

“In one way it was good. I was getting bored, there was nothing left to do.”

He said he worried about medical benefits for younger workers and hoped a buyer would come along, but he wasn’t optimistic. “If you look inside the plant, most of the machinery is all gone. They took it back to Belgium, maybe. The show’s over.”

Carrano’s plan for his first day of retirement? “Go down to Motor Vehicles and get my license renewed, then go cash some of my checks. Just relax for a bit.”

Time To Shop

Alina Grzadko (at right in photo), who works with Maria Porzycka (at left) in assembly, said she’d been surprised when just after 3 o’clock on Wednesday, her supervisor called a meeting: “They said they’d packed the last guns, and they didn’t need us anymore. It was about the guns, not us. I guess we should know that.”

“It was like we got fired,” she said of the instructions to come back on Thursday to pick up last checks and pink slips. “We knew it was coming, but not like that.”

Where were she and Porzycka headed from there?

“Shopping. Just going around. Try to be busy—not to think about it,” said Grzadko.

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