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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Area Workshop is barely hanging on

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Workers at the Monett Area Workshop sort magazines and newspapers for colored and plain pages to aid in recycling efforts. Recycling jobs have remained the most consistent money-raising tasks still available at the Workshop after manufacturing and assembly jobs have dried up in the economic downturn. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]
These are difficult days at the Monett Area Extended Employment Workshop.

Work orders are at the lowest point in years. The approximately 50 handicapped employees are sorting recyclables almost all the time. There is little money in the jobs available.

"We're not on death's door yet," said Director Mica Plummer, who will mark her 10th year with the Workshop in October. "We're creeping up on it."

Low activity at area industries has generated few jobs for the Workshop. Plummer said many of the jobs assembling or creating packing material for shipping are being done in house by industries these days to keep their own employees busy.

"I really think the industries are giving us all the work they can," Plummer said. "Luck E Strike in Cassville kept us busy during the winter. We make packing material for Fasco. We used to send out two to four boxes a week. Now we're sending out two to four boxes every three to four months."

Plummer said the current spiral began when the Missouri minimum wage last changed. After that, she said the mom-and-pop businesses that had supplied jobs for the workshop either closed or stopped sending in orders.

"Today, what we're doing right now is sorting paper, pulling pages from books for recycling," Plummer said. "We want used magazines, phone books, even newspapers. We sort white pages from the colored. If the community wants to help, bring us recyclables."

Prices for recycling material have stabilized somewhat. Plummer said the last shipment of bundled cardboard sold for $65 a ton, down from the peak of $145 a ton. The only major innovation made at the Workshop in the past year has been going into the book business. The Workshop receives books that have been discarded. Rather than tear all the pages out for recycling, production manager Brenda Stratton has been selling the books on eBay.

Last fall Plummer thought the Workshop might open a bookstore to sell the volumes. Since the books are all discarded donations, she felt there would be little local interest in them. Under the name of the Monett Area Workshop (MAW), the eBay account of "mawsclutteredcloset" was established. Stratton takes pictures of the books, posts new entries, processes and packages all the orders.

"We started last October," Plummer said. "Most of what we sell are romances and a lot of religious books and Bible studies. That's what we get in. Sales average around $1,000 a month."

What worries Plummer the most is keeping her handicapped employees busy five days a week for 30 hours. Ten years ago the Workshop had around 100 handicapped employees. Eighteen have died in that time, and the longtime employees are part of an aging group.

The state system overseeing the handicapped has transitioned some of the higher functioning people to other activities. Many move away and not that many move in. Last week Plummer said she had three new employees. Two worked for a day and did not come back.

"All we do is put people to work and give them a paycheck," Plummer said. "We won't lay anyone off. The state may make us lay off people, but that hasn't happened yet. Those who perform at the lowest level are the most vulnerable.

Plummer and her non-handicapped staff have not had a raise in three years.

"I told my staff when the wage freeze went into effect, we're really just lucky to have a job," Plummer said.

The Workshop board looks to Plummer for funding ideas but no real opportunities seem to be available.

"We have not tapped into our savings yet," said Plummer. "That's survival money to keep the doors open. We may have to tap into it."

Plummer would rather find more work to get out of the current situation.

"We want to do it ourselves. We want our people to work for their checks. That's why they're here," Plummer said.

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