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The Uncertain Future

Posted in Uncategorized by com360bu on May 10, 2011

The workers at the Washington K-Mart are facing the working world from a new perspective after the store closed following over 30 years of service. Read about the process of the store closing and how the employees dealt with it. Tom Johnstone gives an interview on life after K-Mart and take a virtual tour of the K-Mart building with tidbits on the store.

By Justin Miller

Justin Miller

May 10, 2011

Main Story

The Uncertain Future

            After 30 years in service, the Washington K-Mart closed its doors on April 13, devastating the lives of those that worked there.

“I’m 75, and this will be the first time in my life that I’ve filed for unemployment,” Dorothy Roese, a former cashier, said. “I doubt I’ll be able to find a job where I can start off at more than minimum wage at my age.”

When the news was announced in late January, the employees of K-Mart were left wondering why the store was closing, and wondering if they could find a job at another area store.

“We were told that if we wanted to work at another store, like the one in Peoria or Morton, then we would have to reapply and start back at minimum wage,” former electronics manager Lupe Martins said. “I worked here for 15 years and to have them tell me that I can’t just transfer, that I have to just forgo all the tenure we’ve accrued, it felt like a slap in the face.”

The official reason for closing the store that was given to the employees was that business had lost too much of its business over the past several years and that it was not economically viable to keep the store open.

According to store manager Ray Dalberg, the store had been seeing its annual profits slowly decrease for several years before the economic recession hit.

When the recession started, the store’s sales began to plummet even lower than before and, with the cost-cutting prices of Wal-Mart down the road, more customers began to leave K-Mart.

“Really what I feel the main reason was that the Wal-Mart that moved down the road in 2004 had finally built up it’s customer base and had slowly started to draw our customers away,” Annete Cadwell, former assistant manager at K-Mart said. “We just couldn’t compete with the prices that they have and it slowly sucked customers away from us and over to them.”

In February, the rights to the store’s merchandise was sold to a liquidator, who then ran the clearance sale until early April, when the store’s lease agreement ran out.

This marked the official end of K-Mart’s tenure in Washington, although the store was kept open under the liquidation agreement to sell the merchandise.

“Mark, the liquidator, kept on most of the people from the store through the liquidation sale, which bought most of us another month or so of not having to look for a new job,” Roese said. “About the last week he had the store, he had to let most of us go and just keep the people that could help him tear down the fixtures. That’s when the uncertain future began for me.”

To complicate matters, the company never told the employees what their severance package would be until after they had signed a form waiving their right to sue the company over any matter.

“After signing the waiver, they still wouldn’t send someone in person to tell us what kind of package they were going to give us, we had to call the headquarters after the store closed and get answers out of them,” Cadwell said. “Our store manager didn’t even know what kind of severance they were going to give us until the store closed.”

After being redirected to talking to the company’s main headquarters in Michigan, the majority of the full-time employees found that their severance package would cover eight weeks and be 49% of their base pay.

“There was a condition of the severance guidelines that said if you had 35 years of service and were 50 or older, then you could opt for early retirement,” Tom Johnstone said. “I was two years away from that. Now I have to start again at the bottom somewhere else.”

While many of the employees are struggling to figure out where they will go next and what the future has in store for them, at least one has found a happy ending in the store’s closing.

“I figured that since I’m going to have to start all over again, then I might as well start as quickly as I can and not put it off,” Carol Barnes said. “I worked at K-Mart for 22 years so I had no problem getting hired at the electronics department at Wal-Mart. It’s weird to work for the company that put us out of business, but I started on there making almost the same as I did at K-Mart.”

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