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Progress Vanguard worker tells different story
Lawrence is a long way from Wall Street, but don’t think local workers can’t fall victim to battles between two corporate titans. It is beginning to look like that is what happened to the 55 employees who lost their jobs when Lawrence’s Progress Vanguard plant closed down. “It was a corporate (expletive) match,” said Wilbur Garrison, a former employee at the plant. After the Journal-World reported Monday on the closing of the plant, Garrison called in to say that employees at the plant had a different view of why the plant shut its doors. He said it didn’t have anything to do with a supposed slowdown in rail traffic, which was one of the reasons given by Progress’ corporate headquarters. Instead, Garrison said workers believe it had everything to do with the company being bought out by the Caterpillar Corp. Here’s the deal as employees see it: The work that employees did was reconditioning a key part for locomotive engines. The locomotive engines were made by General Electric, and Progress Vanguard essentially did the equivalent of warranty work on the engines. That was a fine arrangement for a number of years, said Garrison. But when Caterpillar bought the company in 2006, the situation changed. That’s because Caterpillar and GE are battling to gain market share for the locomotive engine market, Garrison said. Garrison said workers believe GE didn’t like the idea of money going to its key competitor, so GE opened a similar maintenance facility near Kansas City International airport. That’s where the work Progress Vanguard once did is now being performed. And, of course, that is the way the business world works. But it still left Lawrence employees feeling like they got caught in the middle of something they had no control over. “It really caught us off guard,” Garrison said of the closing. “We thought with our location we were kind of a hub, and that this plant would never close.” Once it did, finding a new job at a similar salary has been difficult. Garrison said experienced technicians at the plant made about $40,000 per year. “It has been impossible,” Garrison said of finding a similar job in the Lawrence area.