The yr Roger Journell started working at Normal Electrical in Salem, Elvis Presley scored a success with “All Shook Up.” The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, starting the Area Race. And to the horror of New York baseball followers, the Brooklyn Dodgers picked up and moved to Los Angeles.
All that occurred in 1957. The Dodgers stay in California, however Elvis and the Soviet Union are relics on historical past’s junk pile. No person can say that about Journell, now 81. He nonetheless works at GE.
His final day is Friday. And above all else, that is what he needs the Roanoke Valley to know:
“I’m not retiring,” Journell insisted. “I’m being laid off.”
This month, the multinational company wraps up an extended wind-down at its Salem plant, which opened in 1955 and for many years has offered a few of the best-paying blue-collar jobs within the Roanoke Valley.
For 64 years, these employees, who numbered round three,000 on the plant’s zenith, constructed customized industrial controls for large factories, the army and most lately, for electrical energy vegetation. Now their work is being moved abroad, to locations like India and China.
GE introduced in 2018 that manufacturing operations in Salem would stop this yr. Since then it has laid off greater than 200 hourly employees. Journell is among the many last handful to go.
The corporate continues to make use of greater than 300 professionals in southwestern Virginia, Adam Tucker, a spokesman for GE Energy, stated.
Worldwide, GE employs roughly 283,000 folks. Though the corporate couldn’t inform me who tops the longevity pecking order, “it’s correct to say that Roger’s tenure locations him as one of many firm’s longest-tenured staff,” Tucker stated.
“Folks like Roger make GE nice,” Craig Sturdy, GE web site supervisor in Salem, stated. “We’re grateful to Roger for his greater than 62 years of devoted service. With out query, he has made a major constructive affect to GE. However extra necessary is the constructive affect Roger has made on these of us who’ve had the consideration of working alongside him throughout his profession.”
Journell utilized for a job on the plant in December 1956, the identical yr he graduated from Pearisburg Excessive Faculty and received married. By then, the farm-raised 18-year-old had tried his hand stocking cabinets on the night time shift at a Meals Honest grocery store in Fairfax County.
He didn’t look after Northern Virginia a lot, Journell recalled in an interview at GE Thursday. Even again in these days, the visitors up there was unbelievable.
Because the fourth-born of eight kids, “I wished to come back dwelling for Christmas ,” Journell instructed me. The bosses at Meals Honest “didn’t wish to let me off, however I went anyway.” Considered one of his brothers then working at GE inspired Journell to use for a job on the Salem plant.
His first day at GE was Jan. 30, 1957. His job title was “miscellaneous machine operator” and it paid an hourly charge of $1.42.
“My test wasn’t however 50-some dollars every week — that was the gross,” Journell stated. Since then, he’s held 15 different jobs on the Salem plant, together with grinder, punch press operator, lathe operator, machinist and inspector.
“I’ve at all times been type of mechanically inclined,” he instructed me. “I type of discovered that serving to my dad on the farm with machines.”
Journell’s longest gig has been as an expediter within the firm’s Incoming & Receiving division. That’s a employee who checks each nut, bolt and different article that is available in, and makes certain the stock is appropriate every day, and that all the things’s saved within the appropriate place within the inventory room.
It’s a job that retains Journell working round many of the Salem advanced.
“He’s actually, actually thorough in his job,” stated Ethel Webb-Corridor, a GE co-worker who urged me to jot down about Journell. “He’s apprehensive about each little half, and the rely, and the place it’s put. Within the final yr, all of us knew we had been closing — a number of folks gave up caring. However not Roger. He’s actually, actually devoted.”
“He’s one of many guys you go to you probably have a problem,” stated Vicky Hurley, president of Native 82161 of the IUE-CWA, the union that represents hourly employees at GE in Salem, together with Journell. “He can get issues straightened out.”
The corporate has undergone a bunch of title adjustments since Journell began there. In 1957, it was GE Drives & Controls, he instructed me. That later modified to GE Energy & Water, after which GE Administration; and now simply GE Energy. Journell allowed that there could also be one or two names he’s forgotten.
At first, Journell and his spouse lived along with her relations in Narrows, and he commuted greater than 60 miles every method each day. Then he discovered a room to lease close to the Salem Civic Heart and drove again to Narrows on weekends.
Not a lot later, he and his spouse rented an condo on Entrance Avenue in Salem, then one other one on Indiana Avenue, earlier than they lastly rented a home in Northwest Roanoke’s Cherry Hill neighborhood off Shenandoah Avenue.
Lots of the plant’s staff lived in Cherry Hill as a result of it was solely minutes away from the manufacturing unit. Journell and his spouse, JoAnn, purchased a plot there, and someplace round 1962 constructed a three-bedroom rancher with a completed basement.
By that point, Journell’s job was to arrange punch presses within the machine store. His wage was simply over $2 per hour. The home value $13,200. He paid off the 30-year-mortage within the early 1990s, proper on schedule.
Within the early days of his employment at GE, the work was tougher, as a result of “we used World Battle II surplus lathes and different equipment,” Journell stated. Now, most of these instruments are computer-controlled. Probably the most harmful job, which Journell carried out at completely different occasions, was working punch presses that popped holes into sheet metallic.
Though Journell stated the plant has security report, “quite a lot of [workers] misplaced arms, or had them crushed” in punch presses.
His fondest recollections are “the folks, the co-workers. All of us labored collectively as a group. We had been within the studying part.”
Journell and his spouse, who divorced within the late 1960s, had three kids. Considered one of their daughters lives in North Carolina; one other’s in Tennessee. Their son Keith lives in Vinton. JoAnn, who labored for a time at GE, remarried however is deceased. That they had three grandchildren, too.
Journell by no means remarried. With a smile, he stated he’s had his share of girlfriends — however he’s single proper now.
By most requirements, the layoff package deal Journell and the opposite union employees are receiving is pretty beneficiant. All of them are getting a yr of full well being advantages without charge, plus two weeks pay for every year they labored.
For older employees corresponding to Journell, there’s no cap to that severance — which means his severance is 124 weeks of pay, at an hourly charge Hurley, the union president, stated is “above $30.”
Why work into your 80s? Why didn’t he retire lengthy prior to now?
“I like working,” Journell instructed me. “I get pleasure from it. I’m not one to put in mattress till 10, 11 day-after-day. If the plant wasn’t closing I wouldn’t be leaving proper now.”
He stated he’s had “a number of presents” on LinkedIn, the employment-oriented social media web site he’s a member of. However he’s most likely not going to take a type of.
Human Assets from GE company has lately been calling Journell’s dwelling and cell telephones and leaving messages, he instructed me.
“They wished to know if they might assist me discover a job elsewhere,” Journell stated, chuckling.
“I’ve type of let my home go,” he stated. “I have to do some work on it. With me being a bachelor, and dealing like I’ve been working [overtime] the final a number of months, it wants loads of work.”
“I don’t plan stuff a lot upfront anymore,” Journell instructed me. “If I wish to do one thing, I’ll simply do it.”