Meadville Tribune

Opinion

March 9, 2014

Viscose’s closing was a nightmare for many that centered around greed

Just outside the city limits of Fifth Ward, Meadville, in Vernon Township is a large complex of brick buildings. This was the American Viscose Corporation, “Viscose,” which later became FMC Corporation and still later, Avtex Fibers Inc.

I was a third generation employee there. My father, Floyd Throop, known at work as “Doc Troop,” worked there more than 40 years in spinning. I worked mostly in spinning from 1971 until May 1985 (except for lay-off times). My mother worked there before I was born and my grandmother had worked there in the processing department.

The Viscose was in the eyes of many an institution that would always be there. It was built in the 1920s and the majority of its employees laid off in May 1985, just two weeks before the deadly tornadoes hit the area. When I was there, there were a number of second and third generation employees. It was generally held that our jobs would always be there. In fact when the majority were finally let go in May 1985, a number declined to clean out their personal lockers. They firmly believed they would be back to work in two or three weeks, but it didn’t happen that way!

Instead, what happened became a personal nightmare for many of these former employees. As time marched on, many lost marriages, cars, homes and self-respect as they couldn’t find meaningful employment. I have no doubt a few succumbed to an early death because they couldn’t cope with their changed circumstances in life. The Meadville area economy went into a tailspin because “Viscose” checks bought so much of what the stores had to offer. Only the loss of Talon from the area had as much or more impact, as these were the two largest employers of the area. Businesses failed right and left to the point many claimed the welfare office was now Meadville’s largest employer.

Of course, things are now better as gradually people learned to make meaningful adjustments. But I sincerely doubt it is as yet as good as it was back then for the local economy. People have had to relocate, learn new trades and for the most part, learn to live on less income.

I was there at the union meeting when they discussed accepting or rejecting the new three-year contract. The company wanted employees to take a 30 percent pay cut and foremen to take a 10 percent pay cut (which in itself I felt was not fair). This was a drastic pay cut, taking most of us down almost to minimum wage, but the company insisted it was necessary to keep the plant running. The union encouraged us to reject the contract and, not surprisingly, we did! Hardly anyone favored these drastic measures.

The company said it was losing money, but I do not fully believe it was truthful. When I picked up my last paycheck at the office, I helped myself to a stack of papers from an office wastebasket. When I examined them in detail, I found the Meadville plant was still making money, though not the huge amounts the corporation obviously wanted. So, considering the then existing market trends, they advocated this drastic pay cut. In all likelihood they probably would have been just fine with a one year contract without pay cuts or raises, in my opinion.

Later in 1988 I had a seasonal position with the U.S. Census Bureau and I got to visit the headquarters of Avtex Fibers at Valley Forge. They looked like they were doing very well. Driving past the homes of the corporate officers nearby, I saw elaborate, expensive homes with lots of new cars, trucks and recreational vehicles in the driveways and huge boats in their backyards. Compared to their employees in Meadville, they seemed to be doing very well financially. Well, greed is not against the law, but in my opinion, it can, does and will do a lot of damage.

Eugene F. Throop lives in Abbottstown. He is a former Meadville resident who worked at Avtex

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