It's going to be a blue Christmas for steelworker Donald Bobbitt and his family.
Bobbitt, 37, had back surgery after he was injured on the job a year ago, and recently returned to work after 10 months of recuperation. But earlier this week, he and his co-workers at the Eastern Stainless Steel plant here learned that 450 of them won't have jobs to come back to after the holidays.
Bobbitt, who is married and has a 12-year-old son, said he has been working at Eastern Stainless for eight years and earns about $13.50 an hour, one of the highest wages in the plant. He and other workers said they have been told that employes hired since 1972 will be laid off.
To all appearances, it was business as usual this afternoon, as employes trickled out of the giant Eastern plant, a fadedstructure with stacks belching steam into the frigid air. But many of the workers, including Bobbitt, said the layoffs spell the end to their days as steelworkers.
"I have no way of figuring out how I'm going to pay my bills," said Bobbitt, as he left the plant at the end of his shift. "It's sad, and I know I'm not the only one in this position."
He said he hopes his family can get by on his wife's salary and his unemployment insurance while he takes courses in air conditioner and refrigeration repair.
Richard Bosnick, 31, said he has no illusions about the difficulty of finding another job as a steelworker. Bosnick, who has also worked for the credit union during his 12 years at Eastern, said he will look for work with a bank or finance agency.
But, with his wife in college and a 9-year-old son to support, Bosnick said he expects hard times ahead. "We're just not going to be able to make it," he said, adding that there won't be any money for college tuition next semester.
"My standard of living may never be back to where it has been," he said.
Some employes, including 30-year-old Ray Wrarthen, said they expect that, eventually, the company may recall some of the younger workers with little seniority who are being laid off.
Wrarthen said he believes many of the older workers who remain will be forced into retirement because they will be assigned to tough, physically demanding jobs to replace those laid off.
"They're going to take all those old timers and put them on jobs like the shears," said Wrarthen, referring to the dangerous and difficult job of cutting steel plates with pneumatic shears. The plant will continue to make steel plates but is discontinuing the making of steel sheets and strip steel, used in the manufacturer of automobiles and appliances.
Eastern Stainless Steel, a division of Eastmet Corp., has been beset by the high cost of production and the diminishing demand for American steel. The company said the layoffs were an effort to cut costs and "provide the company with its best chance for long-term survival."
Many workers said they think Eastern Stainless Steel will soon go under, and they fear the remaining 500 workers, many of whom are are 50 or older, will find themselves in even worse straits than those being laid off now. Bobbitt said he has those fears for his father, who has worked at the Eastern plant for 29 years.
"I can find something else somewhere," he said, "I'm young. But my father -- if the company doesn't stay around -- he's too old to get retrained."