On Your Side: Avondale Severance

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October 13, 2006

Imagine losing your job just before retirement and finding out the money you were counting on won't be there.

Former Avondale Mills employees tell News 12 that's exactly what is happening to them after the plant closed its doors in July.

Job searching can be a stressful time...but if you find yourself out of a job, don't count on getting a severance package. A national trend shows companies offering that added boost are on the decline.

Now, former Avondale Mills employees are struggling to put food on the table while they search for a new job.

Single mothers are struggling to make ends meet after Avondale Mills closed its doors. Betty Hickson was almost eligible for retirement...but now, she has to go back to school in her mid 50s to train for a new career. And the money is running out.

"It's a very stressful thing," she says. "I feel like we were just railroaded."

Betty and her friend Mozell Jones say after more than 30 years with the company, they were expecting a severance package, which gives laid off workers a little extra financial help.

"I put my whole life in that company, and working as hard as I worked, I deserve something, you know?" Mozell says.

All that hard work means they are eligible for unemployment benefits.

"The maximum they can get is $300 per week for about two years. That averages out to a little more than $7000 a year. That's well below the poverty level of around $17,000 for a family of four.

They need more than that to get by during the job search...but here's the problem: state law does not require employers to give laid off employees any extra benefits. And the number of companies nationwide giving severance packages dropped below 50% after the early 80s.

The number is even lower for textile workers like Mozell, who could lose her house if she can't find more work.

"It's at a standstill, going nowhere, looking everywhere," she says. "At my age, it's hard to find a job anywhere. With the education I have it's hard to find a job anywhere."

"It's hard!" Betty says. "I just pray and talk to the good Lord to take it a day at a time."

We tried to contact Avondale's spokesman, Stephen Felker, Jr., to ask if any former employees are getting severance. So far our phone calls have gone unreturned.

However, Avondale is giving everyone the chance to get job training. It's through the federal One Stop program. But the women we just heard from are in their fifties, which they say will make it harder to get a new job.