Reach out to employees facing job loss


Parishioners throughout the Davenport Diocese have endured job losses before and after the Great Recession. As members of their parishes, it’s time for us to consider how we can provide pastoral support to them now and in the future.
The latest news of expected jobs reduction involves Kraft Heinz Company, which announced two weeks ago plans to move operations from south Davenport to a new facility to be constructed on the city’s northwest border. This decision will result in a net loss of 2,600 jobs in North America. Hundreds of jobs could be lost in Davenport. But the company must retain at least 475 positions at the Davenport (former Oscar Mayer) plant to receive state and local economic incentives. That’s not much consolation for the 1,400 current employees, wondering if they’ll still have jobs two years from now when the new plant opens. As one diocesan employee whose husband works at the Davenport plant said, “Our life is on hold.”
Kraft Heinz will offer severance benefits, outplacement services and other support to help affected employees pursue new job opportunities, Michael Mullen, a company official told The Catholic Messenger. That’s a start, but specific details would help. Iowa Workforce Development pledges to ease the transition with its multifaceted approach to helping workers. Courtney Maxwell Greene, communications director for Iowa Workforce Development, says the agency’s staff has been in contact with Kraft Heinz management and plans to meet soon, face to face, “to get an idea of what the company is open to with regard to services so we can move forward to request funds.”
We appreciate Iowa Workforce Development’s recognition of the emotional, social and economic impact on workers and community. “It can be a shock and traumatic for people, especially if this is their first time losing a position,” Maxwell Greene said. She encourages people to visit the IowaWORKS Center (902 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport, Suite 51) for one-on-one training and advanced training. “Iowa Workforce Development offers a multitude of free services for those looking for re-employment or a career change. We want employees to stay in our community, keep their children in our schools, and continue contributing to the local economy.”
Also taking a proactive approach is Iowa State Rep. Cindy Winckler of Davenport, who has asked for help from the University of Northern Iowa’s Institute for Decision Making. Locally, representatives from Hilltop Campus, St. Ambrose University, Palmer College, Genesis Health System, the city of Davenport and its school district have begun discussing the impact on the community, she said.
Pope Francis observes in “Laudato Si” that “Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.” Loss of jobs erodes “social capital: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence (No. 128).”
What does Kraft Heinz’s decision mean in terms of erosion of social capital? What will the impact be on local businesses, schools, housing, transportation, mental health services and our parishes? Might some of us consider volunteering to be part of the strategic planning group Winckler envisions?
As parishes, do we have parishioners who are among the affected employees? Could we ask them, “During this time of uncertainty, how can we minister to you?” Or, could we think about assisting parishes that do have parishioners impacted by Kraft Heinz’s decision?
When Whirlpool Corp. shuttered the Maytag plant in Newton in the fall of 2007, some 550 workers lost their jobs; among them were parishioners of Sacred Heart Parish-Newton. One of the losses for parish life was a thriving morning men’s group. Its leader took a new job in another town. Parishioners left behind needed to heal as they said goodbye to families. “One of the things we did, we gave them a blessing before they went on to different jobs or different towns,” said Kathy Hammerly, the parish’s stewardship director. “It’s a beautiful blessing, from the Book of Blessings.”
Something as simple as giving a blessing to families moving on to new lives: we can take a cue from that.
Barb Arland-Fye

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