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35 Years to Unemployment
By: Kenisha Kelsey
Barbara Wilson couldn’t help fretting as she walked with her coworkers to the meeting.
All around her the women were speculating, the same question echoing through the room:
“What’s going on?” Earlier that day, their bosses were pulled into a meeting, but no one knew
why. Upon their return, all the workers were asked to meet in a large opening on the factory
floor. They were given no explanation. When all were gathered, they heard news that would
change their lives. Fruit of the Loom was closing.
Barbara Wilson is among the 630 employees who lost their jobs this year when the
Russell Springs, Ky., Fruit of the Loom plant closed. With the company’s decision to relocate its
manufacturing to Honduras, Russell County fell into a state of uncertainty. Many fear that the
loss of jobs will hurt other county industries. City officials must now find ways to compensate
for the loss of tax revenue from the factory’s closing. For Wilson and many other employees the
question is much simpler: “What am I going to do?”
Ronnie Conner was a finishing supervisor at Fruit of the Loom. “Some people were
scared,” said Conner. “Worried about what they were going to do, worried about losing
everything. We were unhappy.” This is Conner’s second time around. “I worked for them in two
different locations: In Georgia and here.” The Georgia native spent his first seven years working
at the plant there. After the announcement of its closing, Conner was offered a job in Russell
Springs. “They announced the closing, offered me a job here and moved me up here,” he said.
Conner is once again facing the decision to stay or go. This time he must think about his
daughter Mackenzie who is attending Russell County High School. “We’re going to try to stay
here for a little while at least while she is still in school,” Said Conner. “Then I’ll try to go
somewhere else.” Conner is now unemployed and trying to receive assistance for his own
Conner said that when Fruit of the Loom announced its closing, it tried to make the
transition as simple as it could for its employees. The company applied for a Trade Assistance
Act. The act helps extended unemployment and help people return to school. “There is a local
branch that is part of the state that is helping people, helping sending them to school and things
like that,” said Conner.
Barbara Wilson has been a line worker at Fruit of the Loom for 35 years. She is a small
woman. Her hands are cracked from years spent on the factory line. Her face is covered in lines
from age or worry. Now 59, Wilson started working at Fruit of the Loom right out of high school
and never left. Fruit of the Loom is all she’s ever known. The company tried to make the
transition as easy as it could for its employees. “You know it doesn’t make it any easier,” Wilson
said. “They were afraid that a lot of people would retaliate and tear up stuff but nobody ever did
anything.” When asked why she thought no one destroyed anything, Wilson believed it was out
of respect for the company. “Because they had done everything they could for us,” she said. “I
knew I wasn’t going to do anything because everything I have is from Fruit of the Loom.”
During their last few days at work, Wilson and the employees spent a lot of time
shredding papers. “There wasn’t a whole lot coming through (the line). We all just spent a lot of
time together. We all said our goodbyes to people. We were sad. You work there so long and you
knew when you left that would be it, you’d lose contact with a lot of them,” said Wilson. After
35 years, Wilson’s time at the company is now over. For the first time, Wilson is experiencing a
new type of life: unemployment.
Having worked at the factory for the majority of her life, being without work has been a
difficult change for Wilson. “I just don’t do a whole lot,” Wilson said. “I have to watch what I
spend. My family is good to help but I’m not used to that.” Wilson spends most of her days at
home searching for employment. But in an area as small as Russell County, there may be no
employment to find.
Fruit of the Loom made up 1/3 of the industrial workforce in Russell County. Many fear
that the loss of jobs could have an impact on commerce for the whole county. Denver Wilson is a
local author and owner of Country Folks Realty and Auction. The recent increase of water levels
at Lake Cumberland has caused tourism to rise in Russell County. The rise will help off-set the
losses in the real estate market. Wilson said other industries will most likely be feeling the
impact of Fruit of the Loom’s closing. “It’s going to hurt retail business such as Kmart.
Convenience Stores might get the blunt of it,” he said. “Banks will probably suffer a little
because people aren’t financing houses or cars.”
Wilson said that overall, other industrial companies in the area are picking up the slack.
Stephen’s Pipe and Steel recently purchased the Fruit of the Loom building and will be hiring
soon. Also, Dr. Schneider’s and Bruss North America have expanded to take on new employees.
Wilson’s biggest concern is the pay. “They don’t have the pay scale that Fruit of the Loom
does,” he said. This could hurt many Fruit of the Loom employees looking for work.
The closing of Fruit of the Loom is hurting the county as a whole. The 630 jobs was not
the only thing the county lost, According to Russell Springs City Council documents. With the
closing of Fruit of the Loom came the loss of approximately $203,000 in income tax revenue to
the city. Water and disposal is also losing approximately $600,000. Water treatment will lose
$1.3 million. With losses like that, it is easy to see why many in the community are fearful of the
The closing of Fruit of the Loom impacts much more than just the individuals who
worked there. The community as a whole can feel the impact financially and emotionally. The
fear of the future could be the biggest impact on the community. “It’s scared more people than
anything. Just the not knowing,” said Denver Wilson. No one in the community is exempt from
the impact that losing Fruit of the Loom will have. “It will have an impact on everyone’s
business until we get those 600 jobs back,” said Wilson.
If I were to publish this story I would publish it in my local newspaper the Russell
Register. I would publish the story locally because it applies to people in my hometown.
Barbara Wilson: 270-585-1368
Ronnie Conner: 270-566-9274
Denver Wilson: 270-866-7676