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Light bulb factory closes; End of era for U.S. means more jobs overseas

The last major U.S. factory making ordinary incandescent light bulbs will soon be closing. When it does, the remaining 200 workers at the Winchester, Va., plant, about 70 miles west of Washington, D.C., will lose their jobs, marking a small, sad exit for a product that began with Thomas Alva Edison's innovations in the 1870s.

"For those who make incandescent bulbs the law was bad for business," Yan said. "For people like us, it was very good."

Temperatures at the traditional incandescent plant here can be sweltering because of the heat coming from the machines that melt the glass. It's noisy, too, and workers wear ear plugs and safety glasses. And the pace of the work demands constant hustle, an atmosphere created by managers over the years who set up competitions among teams of workers striving to meet production goals. The winning line could post a black-and-white checkered flag on their machinery.

Jobs at the plant have been prized locally for years: They pay about $30 an hour.

One day after punching out recently, the workers gathered around the picnic tables by the employee entrance.

Some expressed grievances with the plant managers, who they note will get new jobs elsewhere, or with Congress for passing the energy legislation. Several took aim at the new new technology itself, noting that CFLs have mercury in them.

Some at the plant will be able to retire off their severance packages. Those with less time on the job, or those who are younger, have braced themselves for whatever comes next.

Some are taking classes at the Lord Fairfax Community College, hoping that familiarity with solar panels or HVAC might land them a job. Others scan the want-ads but don't see how they will replace what they were making at the factory.

This small town has not been terribly hurt by the recession; local unemployment is running at 7.5 percent, well below the national average.

But good-paying jobs in manufacturing, they said, have become difficult to find.

Beverly Carter, 50, who feeds cardboard sleeves into a machine and makes sure it doesn't jam, has worked at the plant for 32 years.

"It's very hard to find a job like that around here," she said.

Moreover, because many of the workers are in their 40s and 50s, some were nagged by worries that other employers would see them as washed up.

"We gave GE the best years of our lives," Savolainen said.

Matt Madigan, 40, and his twin brothers, Wayne and Dwayne, also work at the plant.

"We've always had a lot of industry here in the valley, I've never had a problem finding a job," he said. "A person really wanted to work, you could go from one factory to another. Everything nowadays is tougher."

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