Clock winding down for Micolas workers
The clock is ticking down for the approximately 135 employees of Opp’s Micolas Mill who must decide if they will transfer to the company’s Phenix City operations or seek other employment.
Plant Manager Billy Whitehead said he’s spoken to “all but a handful” of the employees.
Two weeks ago, the company ann-ounced it would shift its Micolas operations to Phenix City, and gave employees the option to transfer to the Phenix City plant or receive unemployment.
“I’d say there’s about 10 give or take that are going to go the Phenix City,” he said.
Of those 10 is Tommy Rogers a 25-year veteran employee, who serves as the lead man over warping, the process of creating the base yarn that runs top to bottom on woven cloth.
“I’m going to Phenix City,” he said. “I’m single. I have to have a job, and this is all I’ve ever done. My mother lives with me, but one of my sisters is going to take care of her.”
Rogers said he was a bit concerned when he first heard the company would be consolidating its Opp weaving operations with the Phenix City finishing operations in mid-January.
“I was worried when I first found out,” he said. “But since I’m not married, I’m going to go and come home on the weekends.”
Six-year veteran Toby Blair said he plans to do the same.
“I deal with the yarn, testing department and inventory,” he said. “I’m going to Phenix City, but I’m just going to travel back and forth until we figure out exactly what the schedule will be like.”
Blair is married and has a 4-month-old child.
“My wife works in the area, and we’re both from this area,” he said.
Blair said he’s very thankful that he has the opportunity to transfer.
“I was very pleased that they offered everyone the opportunity to relocate to Phenix City,” he said. “That was good of Johnston Textiles to do that. We have the opportunity to relocate, while a lot of others in this industry didn’t have that option.”
Brothers Dennis and “Sweet Pea” Bogen have been working at the mill for 25 and 17 years respectively.
“I’m a yarn curler,” Dennis said. “I’m still debating on going to Phenix City. Both of my daughters are in college, so I won’t be uprooting anyone. But I’m not worried about finding a job.”
Dennis said he wasn’t surprised to hear the mill was closing.
“There were rumors floating around,” he said. “But for the past 20 years, rumors have been floating around. I’ve enjoyed my 25 years here. I started here when I was about 21 years old.”
“Sweet Pea,” who serves as the yard coordinator, said he’ll look for something else to do.
“I’ll probably find a job near Brantley,” he said. “I saw it coming, so it wasn’t really a big surprise. I know textile is a bad business to be in.”
Still, he said he’s not worried about finding a new job.
“My trust is in God,” he said.
For mother of two Jackie Dye, she said “no questions asked” she wouldn’t be transferring to Phenix City.
“I’m not going to Phenix City,” she said. “I have a senior in high school and an eighth grader, so there’s no sense in disturbing them.”
Dye has held a number of positions with Johnston Textiles.
“I started in 1997 as a preschool substitute,” she said. “It shut down around 2002-2003, and I went to the cotton department and transferred to HR. With the major shutdown of the Opp Mill in 2003, they didn’t need me in HR, so they put me in accounts payable.”
Dye said she’s not worried about herself.
“I’m just worried about the employees who have been here a long time,” she said. “Those who are at retirement age. I’m looking for a job. I may go back to subbing. I’ve kept my certification up.”
The mill may be leaving, but it’s left its mark on the community.
“Johnston Textiles has done a number of things for Opp, and in turn the city has done a lot for Johnston Textiles,” Blair said. “It’s been a good partnership.”