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Posts Tagged ‘pennsylvania’

 

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Image: Phantom of the Opera

It may sound like a scenario for a Phantom of the Opera sequel, but a month in a mask factory, nights included, is what 43 workers at Braskem America in Pennsylvania experienced when their company tackled a rush order of a key ingredient in personal protective equipment (PPE).

Meagan Flynn writes at the Washington Post, “At his factory just off the Delaware River, in the far southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, Joe Boyce clocked in on March 23 for the longest shift of his life.

“In his office, an air mattress replaced his desk chair. He brought a toothbrush and shaving kit, moving into the Braskem petrochemical plant in Marcus Hook, Pa., as if it were a makeshift college dormitory. The casual office kitchen became a mess hall for him and his 42 co-workers turned roommates. The factory’s emergency operations center became their new lounge room.

“For 28 days, they did not leave — sleeping and working all in one place.

“In what they called a ‘live-in’ at the factory, the undertaking was just one example of the endless ways that Americans in every industry have uniquely contributed to fighting coronavirus. The 43 men [worked] 12-hour shifts all day and night for a month straight, producing tens of millions of pounds of the raw materials that will end up in face masks and surgical gowns worn on the front lines of the pandemic.

“No one told them they had to do it, Braskem America CEO Mark Nikolich said. All of the workers volunteered, hunkering down at the plant to ensure no one caught the virus outside as they sought to meet the rocketing demand for their key product, polypropylene, which is needed to make various medical and hygienic items. …

[Said] Boyce, an operations shift supervisor and a 27-year veteran at Braskem America, …’We’ve been getting messages on social media from nurses, doctors, EMS workers, saying thank you for what we’re doing. But we want to thank them.’ …

“Nikolich said the company has shifted its production lines to focus on making that key ingredient, polypropylene, given the high demand due to covid-19. The company then sells the product to clients that turn it into a nonwoven fabric, which medical manufacturers ultimately use to make face masks, medical gowns and even disinfectant wipes, among other items. …

“Nikolich said the plants decided to launch the live-ins so employees could avoid having to worry about catching the virus while constantly traveling to and from work, and so the staff at the factory could be closed off to nonessential personnel. They were paid for all 24 hours each day, with a built-in wage increase for both working hours and off time, the company said. …

“Boyce said some guys brought their Xbox consoles and TVs, and even a cornhole set, to stay entertained. They stayed active at the on-site gym, which ‘has never been used so much before,’ Boyce said, and stayed extra busy in the kitchen. A skilled cook, Boyce and others asked corporate for more pots and pans and a stove. …

” ‘We had to kind of adapt. We came up with a chart for housekeeping chores so we could all clean the bathrooms and clean up after meals,’ Boyce said. …

“But being separated from family got harder as time went on, said Boyce, a father of two teenagers. Some guys counted down the days. One missed the birth of his first grandchild. Visitors weren’t allowed.

“So on Day 14, the families organized a ‘drive-by visit.’ ”  Read more at the Washington Post, here. Although the Washington Post is typically behind a firewall, you can sign up for the Coronavirus newsletter for free here. It’s really good.

Photo: WPVI
Greeting local news station WPVI staff, Braskem America workers finally clock out on Sunday after living and working inside the factory in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, for 28 days.

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Photo: Erin Clark/Boston Globe
Hazletonians reacted to a hula hoop competition during Fun Fest in downtown Hazleton, Pa., a city that has benefited from the influx of immigrants.

In 2019, the Boston Globe did an interesting series on battleground states, going into communities to listen to a range of voices in hopes of understanding what people are really thinking. Laura Krantz covered Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where residents have mostly embraced a change of industry — and of population.

She reports, “Bob Curry is a man in constant motion, not unlike this fast-changing community he’s always championing. Passing a colorful mural in the community center he runs, its rainbow letters spelling out a Maya Angelou quote about the strength and beauty of diversity, he paused for effect.

“ ‘You see our mural, if you don’t like it, get back on the elevator, you’re free to leave,’ Curry proclaimed.

“He’s kidding — sort of. The Hazleton One Community Center is in a small city all too familiar [with] incendiary anti-immigrant proposals and political dog whistles. … Back in 2006, the City Council voted to make English the official language and proposed fines for landlords and employers who rented to or hired undocumented immigrants, all in an attempt to preserve, as one official said back then, ‘Small Town USA.’ …

“Curry and most others don’t feel a need to talk about that anymore. Time has marched on, and Hazleton has changed with it. …

“Like the rest of this swath of northeast Pennsylvania, Hazleton flourished more than three-quarters of a century ago during the mining of the anthracite coal buried deep below the region’s green hills. But that industry, and that generation, began to fade in the 1950s.

For a while Hazleton was practically a ghost town. Then starting in the early 2000s, something strange happened. A new industry took root, and with it, a new population of mostly Latino families arrived from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia.

“Hazleton is located near a confluence of major highways that connect it to much of the Eastern Seaboard. The proliferation of online shopping gave birth to a booming sector of distribution warehouses, long low-slung buildings tucked into the rolling hills that surround the city. And with those warehouses came salaries that would cover the cost of a perfectly nice home. Families arrived in pursuit of a middle-class life. …

” ‘Everything has changed here,’ Curry said. …

“Amilcar Arroyo is in many ways the personification of this change, as well as the chronicler of it. He is the publisher of El Mensajero, and from his first-floor office, he has seen the sleepy downtown street revived by Latino families who have flowed into town over the past two decades. There were few children when Arroyo arrived some 30 years ago from Peru; now they are everywhere.

“Amid the surge in Latino residents, Arroyo has taken it upon himself to show the town the many contributions of the Latino community. There always seems to be a need for more justification.

“So he keeps a tall whiteboard in his office where he has scribbled a long list: barbers, beauty shops, car garages, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, discotheques, furniture stores, pawn shops, transportation companies, media companies, cleaning businesses, photographers, DJs, nail artists. One afternoon, he remembered he needed to add something else — food trucks.

“ ‘I want to present how many businesses we have in Hazleton,’ he said. …

“Up the hill from Broad Street, the gridded neighborhoods are filling up again with young families. Flowers sprout through cracks in the sidewalks. Sloping awnings cool front porches. Tucked between the modest homes is the community center that Curry runs with his wife, Elaine. …

“Curry left a corporate job to run the center full time when it opened six years ago. He and Elaine don’t take salaries so this is not a luxurious retirement, but their house is paid for and their daughters graduated from college. …

” ‘We always talk about how one candle lights another. This ain’t one candle lighting another, this is lots of candles and really helping to try to illuminate the city.’

“When they opened the center, the Currys hoped they might see 300 children in the first month of their after-school program. Instead, families flooded through their doors, and they’ve never served fewer than 1,000 people — children and adults — each week. …

“After the center opened, the Currys quickly added English language courses for adults, citizenship classes, bilingual pre-kindergarten, and summer camps that cost $25 per week.

“This summer, the project was murals. The basement walls are now splashed with color. The hallway smells of paint. The children started the summer painting a daytime mural, but soon added a nighttime scene because someone drew fireflies and they needed the dark. …

“Earlier in the summer, [after news] that there would be massive immigration raids across the country, … someone drew an alien spacecraft that captured the fireflies, and many of the children painted rocket ships hurtling away through the darkness.

“ ‘There is an undercurrent of nervousness and trepidation that flows through the city,’ Curry said. …

“Mariluz Rodriguez represents the new Hazleton. Her family moved here from Queens, N.Y., when she was 8. Now she is a mentor at the center and preparing to leave for college on a full scholarship.

“ ‘It was just weird being different at first, but after a while it didn’t matter, you’re just part of the community,’ she said as she paused to have a snack. …

“This year, Elaine Curry gave her a wall to paint her own mural. She designed a glowing bouquet of flowers that surrounds the doors to the elevator.

“These are the things Rodriguez thinks about, not demographic shifts, presidential politics, or a sense of belonging. She’s gotten a few looks over the years, but she said she has never felt like a target of racism.

“Here, even though there are always the little things that you get from people, we still have it off really well, and we make it work.’ …

“Penelope Rodriguez [her mother] said she has never felt the kind of racism you hear about on television in Hazleton. Her co-workers and parents in the PTA have been kind and welcoming. The neighbors on their street know each other. …

“ ‘The unknown, which is the great fear, becomes the familiar. And when it’s the familiar, your biases start to dissipate,’ Curry said.”

More here.

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This story has received coverage in a bunch of different venues, but I caught it on WNYC’s the Takeaway, with John Hockenberry, on my drive home from Providence today. Just had to share it.*

“General Electric’s CEO announced that all new hires, whether or not they’re working in tech, will now be required to know how to code. New York public schools are also introducing mandatory computer science classes into their curricula.

“These initiatives seem to indicate that coding is the key to getting hired and the panacea to all employment problems, and as the needs of the U.S. job market shifts, people are putting that theory to the test.

“Coal miners in particular have suffered the brunt of the changing job market. With 40 percent fewer jobs than in 2012, coal miners are seeking out second jobs to support their families, and many have turned to coding.

Amanda Laucher, co-founder of Mined Minds, a free computer coding training program in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, is helping struggling coal miners in her area. Click on the ‘Listen’ button.”

I loved that Laucher told Hockenberry she and co-founder Jonathan Graham were “having a blast.” They didn’t feel like the free service they are self-funding was even a chore. She added that the support of the community made it all possible.

PBS had a bit more background, here:

“When tech consultant Amanda Laucher realized her brother in Greene County, Pennsylvania, the third largest coal-producing county in the country, was at risk of losing his job as a coal miner, she and her husband, Jonathan Graham, decided to help. They began driving about 500 miles from Chicago every weekend to teach him and others in the community how to code.

“Laucher and Graham said they saw an opportunity to wean Greene County off an economy that is heavily dependent on energy. They recently relocated to Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, and co-founded Mined Minds, a nonprofit that offers free coding classes to laid-off coal miners and other unemployed workers.” Oh, my. Bless their hearts!

*Update May 12, 2019: Uh-oh. Read about an unfortunate outcome, described at the New York Times, here. I still think it was a worthy effort.

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It’s not a completely new idea to put personal messages on a billboard, but I thought this iteration was especially fun.

Chris Pleasance writes at the Daily Mail, “With modern advertising boards showing video clips, messaging passersby and even interacting with viewers, it is difficult for a classic billboard to stand out.

“However, one board in Pennsylvania has been attracting attention after displaying odd slogans and messages as part of an art project.

“Jon Rubin, 50, and fellow academic Pablo Garcia contact an artist each month and ask them to write a message for their billboard, which is then displayed using heavy wooden letters.

“The notes, which have ranged from witty remarks to short poems and even two phone numbers, then stay up for a month before being replaced.

“One artist wrote the word ‘Poem’ in front of his phone number, then read verse to anyone who called or listened to poems they wanted to read to him. …

“While most of the submissions come by direct invitation from Jon or Pablo, they do occasionally take ideas via email, or directly from the internet.

“One of the most bizarre came from an 11-year-old girl who wrote: ‘Ideas for my new blog: Who invented tape, how were feelings discovered, when did “skinny” become fashionable?’ “

I especially like this one: “Think about all the hours forgotten plays were rehearsed.” I like it because I know it doesn’t matter that the plays are forgotten. It’s the rehearsing that counts.

More here.

Photo: Splash
Message by Charlie Humphrey

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