Thursday, Apr 26, 2018
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Displaced General Mills workers chart courses for career changes

  • Displaced-General-Mills-workers-chart-courses-for-career-changes

    Gordon Gilmore, with his wife, Nancy, and children Samuel and Anya, may go back to school.

  • Displaced-General-Mills-workers-chart-courses-for-career-changes-2

    Steve Kopinski, laid off in May, became part owner of a restaurant.

    Blade photo

At 19, Gordon Gilmore started working at Toledo's General Mills, Inc., cereal plant during his summer vacation from college and decided to keep the good-paying job a year or two while “temporarily” suspending his education.

At 45, the Toledoan has been jobless since late October after 25 years of making Cheerios and knows the city offers no unskilled factory work where he can make $63,000 as he did last year.

The former business administration student has two choices: Finish two years of college with $20,000 in federal education funds or open a franchise. He will weigh those choices after the holidays, after spending time with his registered-nurse wife and their two children.

“That's what I'm focusing on right now, on the things that I do have and not what I've lost,” said Mr. Gilmore, who worked at the Laskey Road plant just long enough to get medical insurance and a reduced pension.


Steve Kopinski, laid off in May, became part owner of a restaurant.

Blade photo Enlarge

He is among 460 workers at the Toledo cereal plant who lost or will lose their jobs this year, after the takeover by International Multifoods Corp. of Minnesota. Many workers have yet to find new jobs. The adjacent dessert-mix plant owned by General Mills also will be taken over and operated by Multifoods, with its workers hired.

The cereal plant paid workers $22 an hour on average and provided them undisclosed lump-sum severance payments.

Some are trying their hand at running businesses or selling real estate, or doing construction, trucking, and other jobs. A couple of workers transferred to a General Mills plant in Chicago. Others continue to search, some hoping to work at the Walgreen Co. warehouse being built in Perrysburg Township, where they'll be paid about half their former wages but will have steady jobs and opportunities.

Like Mr. Gilmore, many stayed on after production ended in August to help with the cleanup. Toledoan Jim Ferree, a 29-year plant veteran, left right away and is running the kitchen at Toledo's Upper Deck Bar & Grille, at least for now.

“I didn't want anything to do with the cleanup out there because that will tear you up,” he said.

About 35 workers remain at the cereal plant, which will be used as a distribution center once International Multifoods finishes its long-anticipated purchase. The company also is to buy the dessert-mix plant being converted from Betty Crocker to Pillsbury products under the direction of government regulators, a change that was expected to be completed months ago.

General Mills agreed in October, 2001, to close the cereal plant this year and sell both factories to get Federal Trade Commission approval for its purchase of the Pillsbury Co. from Diageo PLC. As part of the $11.5 million deal with International Multifoods, General Mills was to invest $50 million in the dessert factory to get it ready for Pillsbury products.

A General Mills spokesman yesterday insisted the changeover project is going well. An International Multifoods spokesman did not return telephone calls Friday and yesterday.

More than a year ago, International Multifoods promised to replace 100 jobs lost from the cereal plant's closure with distribution-center posts and 25 others with positions in the dessert-mix factory, paring losses to 335.

But workers weren't even notified about hiring for 40 to 60 jobs at the apparently pared-back distribution center, which will be run by a contractor, said Joe Goodell, president and business agent for Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers Local 58G.

Some workers left the cereal plant soon after layoffs started and haven't looked back.

Toledoan Steve Kopinski, who was laid off in May, bought a Springfield Township restaurant with his father, Dennis, and reopened the revamped spot July 15. They named it Melaina's Food & Spirits for the child Mr. Kopinski's wife, Angela, was seven months pregnant with when he was told his job of 141/2 years was being terminated.

Mr. Kopinski said he didn't want anything more to do with the plant after the way workers were abruptly told about its closing. He has loyal customers at the restaurant and no regrets, he said.

“You know when you're in a factory, you're a number. It's big business,” Mr. Kopinski said. “You just think it [a plant closing] will never happen to you, but it's reality.”

Soon after getting laid off, Mr. Ferree was approached by the owner about reopening the Upper Deck's kitchen. He continues looking for manufacturing-related jobs while considering what to do after his six-month lease of the kitchen is over.

“After February, I'll know,” he said. “Hopefully, by then we'll be making some money.”

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