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Employment options open up as Albertsons closes

Searching for someone or something to blame during a crisis is human nature, and there has been no shortage of finger-pointing and rumor in the aftermath of Albertsons' announcement that its East Sonora store would close.

Even Tuolumne County supervisors — who last week fired off a letter asking the Federal Trade Commission if it was responsible for blocking the store's sale to Save Mart — got involved.

Learning the exact circumstances of Albertsons' closure, however, won't bring new jobs to the 65 store employees who were laid off. A scapegoat won't put dinner on the table.

But amid this difficult situation, some in our community have put the focus where it should be: On helping the discharged employees find work and remain in the Sonora area.

A few examples:

• Black Oak Casino this morning held a job fair solely for the former Albertsons workers. "There's a lot of talent in that group," said Al O'Brien, casino marketing manager. "We'd like to mine some of it for our place."

With a workforce of 800, Black Oak could be among the most fertile local ground for job seekers.

• Save Mart, whose purchase of 132 Albertsons stores was originally to include the East Sonora outlet, sent representatives to the closing business last week. Workers were briefed on opportunities with the chain, which has grown to more than 250 California and Nevada markets with the Albertsons purchase.

"As a company, our hearts really went out to them," said Save Mart spokeswoman Alicia Rockwell of the workers.

• Staff members from Mother Lode Job Training in Sonora visited the store twice. An orientation for work-seeking Albertsons' employees is scheduled at Job Connection Tuolumne on Friday and a series of resum workshops is also on the calendar.

"The main reason," said Mary Finigian, Mother Lode Job Training's manager, "is to let them know there's someone out there to help."

Help, as dust settles and anger and resentment fade, may make a difference. If these community efforts translate into new jobs for even a few of the laid-off works, they will have been well worth it.

But even Albertsons' employees probably realize that finding jobs with the pay and benefits of the positions they have lost will not be easy.

Their situation is not unique: In 1994, the Jamestown Mine shut, idling 250. Less than a year later, Blue Shield shut its Sonora office, laying off 80. And later in 1995, SPI bought the Standard Mill from Fibreboard and closed the plywood plant, putting 186 workers on the street.

As will their Albertsons' counterparts, a few retired, some left the county for jobs elsewhere and many, often with the same kind of help now being offered to the grocery store employees, found new jobs in the community.

In the ebb and flow of a free-market economy, businesses open and close and employees are hired and fired. Many of these workforce moves, particularly in smaller firms, are invisible to the general public.

But when layoffs come in numbers, as they have with Albertsons, the community has responded. Black Oak Casino, Save Mart and Mother Lode Job Training are to be commended for their efforts.

Knowing such help is so readily volunteered affords peace of mind even to the employed.

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Union Democrat editorial positions are formed through regular meetings of the newspaper's editorial board — Publisher Geoff White, Managing Editor Patty Fuller and senior reporter-columnist Chris Bateman.


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