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Election 2008

In Plain Township, Job Losses Continue

Mhari Saito

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An Empty Factory
(Mhari Saito)
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Weekends have usually meant overtime for Ron and Audra Guy of Canton, Ohio. For much of the last decade, they both worked at the Hoover Vacuum plant for about $16 an hour. Overtime could boost their pay by $400 dollars a month. It allowed the Guys to raise their family of six in a nice ranch house in a tree-lined suburb.

They traded leisure for comfort. Now they have neither. Audrey lost her job at Hoover three weeks ago. Ron's last day was yesterday.

"It's a big cut," says 41-year-old Ron Guy, "because you've got to multiply it by two because we both work there. So, right now I'm actually working at two jobs. I work at Hoover's and I also clean banks at night."

"It was for extra money," Ron's 39-year-old wife Audra says. "But it's not extra money now."

The Guys are sitting on their couch in front of a big-screen TV in the few hours they have together before Ron heads off to his second job. It has been a long couple of months for them, full of anticipation of this moment. And now that it's here, they've got some decisions to make.

"We've got nowhere near the spending money we used to," Ron says. "We have to cut back. We haven't decided what yet."

"Moving might be part of that," Audra says.

"Yeah, move to a cheaper neighborhood," Ron says. "But then we have to deal with higher crime."

Layoffs in local manufacturing have hit their neighborhood hard. The Guys are among 800 workers that lost their jobs at the Hoover plant. For-sale signs perch in snow-covered lawns on nearly every block. Foreclosures are rising. Property and income-tax revenues are falling. Their township keeps asking voters to raise taxes to help the schools. But time and again, voters in the Plain Local school district have said no. Audra Guy says many of her neighbors have been laid off too.

"Most of the people at Hoover's, most of them live in Plain Local," Audra says, "and they'll tell you, they're not going to pass that levy. And our kids -- like our son, he plays sports -- he has to pay to play. I've had to pay $125 for each sport and they're talking about even cutting that out if we don't pass this levy."

The Guys blame poor management and free trade agreements like the 1993 North American Free Trade Act, or NAFTA. Last year, a Hong Kong-based company bought Hoover, closed the plant, and moved jobs south of the border. Backers of free trade say Americans are reaping the benefits of things like cheap vacuums. But the Guys' point to their own Hoover vacuum. It was made in Mexico and when they turn it on, it's roar is more like a death rattle.

They have it partially out of loyalty to their long-time employer and partially, it seems, because it helps to have something concrete to direct their frustrations at.

"They get what they pay for," Audra says.

"Our company's buying stuff in China for 32 cents an hour labor," Ron says.

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have trekked across Ohio loudly touting plans to bring back jobs, enforce trade agreements and penalize companies that leave the Buckeye State. They want votes from people just like Ron and Audra Guy.

"Quit letting companies take jobs out of America," Ron Guy says. "Put tariffs back on stuff. Forget all this free trade. I want everybody to know, if you want to keep your jobs, you better vote on somebody who's going to stop taking jobs."

The Democratic presidential candidates' plans don't go quite that far. Their dispute has focused on who has been more consistently opposed to NAFTA. In mailers and ads, the Obama campaign has reminded Ohioans that it was Bill Clinton who helped pass NAFTA in 1993. That's catching the attention of the Guys. They were Clinton supporters and are now reconsidering.

"Obama says let's give the companies that are staying a tax break," Ron Guy says, "not the one's that's leaving."

"Then again," Audra interjects, "they can say anything, just doing it is the problem."

Ron agrees. "Clinton was all against NAFTA then signed it anyways. He kinda screwed everybody too. It doesn't really matter if you get a Republican or a Democrat if you keep shipping jobs across the seas."

The Guys have got a busy weekend ahead. Ron wants to start job hunting in earnest. He wants to stay in manufacturing and has applied to a bearings manufacturer not far away. The Guys also have to decide how to vote on Tuesday.

More stories from our Election 2008 series


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