Tyson employees eye opportunities at job fair

George Copeland Jr. | 4/20/2023, 6 p.m.
For Mechanicsville resident Casper Brown, learning that the job he had worked in for over 20 years would suddenly end …
Mr. Brown

For Mechanicsville resident Casper Brown, learning that the job he had worked in for over 20 years would suddenly end in little over a month was a shock and presented a new challenge in his life.

But it’s a challenge that he’s taking in stride.

“I’m too old to start over, but I’m also too young to retire, so I gotta work,” Mr. Brown said. A mechanic at the Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Glen Allen, Mr. Brown was blindsided along with the plant’s nearly 700 other employees when the company announced in mid-March that the plant would close on May 12. Despite this sudden setback, however, Mr. Brown and other Tyson employees are determined to find a new path forward.

“I think I’ll be able to find a job,” said Mr. Brown, who recently had colon surgery and is currently on short-term disability leave. “I’m hoping.” Mr. Brown was just one of many Tyson employees and other workers seeking opportunities, assistance and guidance during a jobs fair hosted by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 union at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church last Saturday.

The streets surrounding the church were lined with cars throughout the morning and afternoon, as the basement of the church buzzed with activity and discussion between hopeful workers and employers offering a range of job openings and positions.

The Pupil Transportation and Food Service departments of Henrico County Public Schools, Virginia Career Services and the Packaging Corporation of America were among the organizations at the jobs fair.

Financial advisers were also on hand to help Tyson workers who had concerns about their workplace savings, retirement plans or other questions in the wake of plant’s sudden closing.

“Tyson employees, I don’t want you guys to feel sad — pick up the phone, call somebody,” said Carolyn Woody, human resource coordinator for Boar’s Head, during the opening minutes of the job fair. “Anybody who wants to come on board, we welcome you.”

The sense of community and solidarity among those at the jobs fair was a sharp contrast to the decision that brought them to Wesley Memorial, and a warmth was present throughout the event that matched the sunny weather outside the church.

It’s that community connection and interest that fueled the creation of the job fair, according to UFCW Local 400 Vice President Donna Waddell. The group has partnered with Boar’s Head, a meat supplier, and Wesley Memorial in the past for community events.

Wesley Memorial Pastor Rodney L. Hunter and Ms. Waddell also share a connection through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where he served as president of the Richmond chapter and she serves as part of the national board, making the church an easy choice to host the jobs fair.

The various businesses and organizations, meanwhile, had quickly reached out to Ms. Waddell in the wake of Tyson Foods announcing the Glen Allen plant closure, eager to find new employees.

“That’s why we’re here today,” Ms. Waddell said. “Trying to help them find good jobs with good benefits and good pay.”

The workers seeking new employment or help at the jobs fair varied in age, ethnicity and job experience, and each had their own goals and expectations for their future employment. Some

of those present, like Mr. Brown, sought to ensure they would have certain benefits as part of their new jobs, whether it was health insurance, dental or a 401K plan.

Others had simpler goals when it came to their work. Ruth Champ, a house keeper at the Jefferson Hotel who heard of the job fair through friends at Tyson, was hoping to move from her current, seven-day job to a less exhaustive five-day one that doesn’t require her to work on weekends, and was more than ready for a change.

“Whenever somebody calls,” Ms. Champ said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

And while efforts to secure compensation from Tyson for the Glen Allen workers have been unsuccessful the prospects for employees seem to be quite bright, with some already starting new jobs at Boar’s Head at Petersburg, according to Ms. Waddell.

“Whatever we can do to point them in the right direction for a good job with good benefits, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Ms. Waddell said.