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Article: Nearly a year after layoffs, former Oreo plant workers struggle to find their way
Nearly a year after layoffs, former Oreo plant workers struggle to find their way
Susana Palomo couldn't sleep for a week, torn between a dream and reality.
One of the hundreds of workers laid off last year from the Nabisco plant on Chicago's Southwest Side, where Oreos were made for more than six decades, Palomo had embarked on a bold plan to attend college and perhaps open her own small bakery someday. But Mondelez International, the $30 billion global parent company of Nabisco, called her back to work in December.
Palomo's predicament: Return to the factory job and get paid? Or continue studying at the French Pastry School, where she was thriving?
"I know money is really important in life, but other things also. If you're not happy, money's not everything. ... It's a struggle," said Palomo, a Blue Island woman in her 50s who emigrated from Mexico with her family as a teenager.
It's been nearly a year since Mondelez laid off almost half of its 1,200 manufacturing workers in Chicago, shifting the work to Mexico. More than 100 employees have been called back, but many of those who lost their jobs struggle to stay afloat financially.
The layoffs, continuing the trend of American companies exporting jobs to take advantage of cheaper materials and labor costs, prompted both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to lambaste Mondelez's decision from the campaign trail. Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly pledged to restore U.S. manufacturing jobs lost to other countries.
But it's hard to envision a meaningful reversal of the manufacturing decline in Chicago, where $25-an-hour factory jobs with benefits have become increasingly rare. In the late 1940s, Chicago boasted almost 670,000 manufacturing jobs, according to city data. Recent estimates by university researchers put the current number at closer to 70,000.
Jobs at the Nabisco bakery, which employed more than 4,000 workers in its heyday, generally paid more than most of the other jobs in the surrounding area, and the plant employed more black and Latino workers than other facilities in the area, according to a recent analysis by the Great Cities Institute at University of Illinois Chicago.
"These are important, good-paying jobs, and not necessarily for people with high levels of educational attainment, in a part of the city that's been losing manufacturing jobs for decades," said Matt Wilson, economic development planner for the Great Cities Institute.