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New Jobs Bring Out Thousands of Applicants In Buffalo

March 2, 1986

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Thousands of people jammed into an auditorium Saturday to apply for one of 270 jobs at a new General Electric Co. subsidiary that will overhaul about 200 New York City subway cars.

Former steelworker Matthew Sawicki calculated the odds of his getting a job at about one in 10,000.

″Sure it’s discouraging,″ he said. ″People want to work, it’s just we’re not getting the work. There’s just not enough work in the area.″

Most of the available positions are the kind of heavy mechanical jobs that have steadily disappeared from the area during the past decade, and the lure of earning $6.50 to $11 per hour was enough to get Sawicki and others out in the winter cold as early as 2 a.m.

″We have not had a new plant opening - with manufacturing jobs - in a while,″ said Jim Bratek, director of operations for the Buffalo and Erie County Private Industry Council, a non-profit job development agency screening the applicants for GE.

James Pautler, representing another non-profit employment group, said officials had been taking applications at a rate of about 600 an hour.

By Saturday evening, 6,000 applications had been processed, said Harry McKeown, deputy superintendent of the New York State Job Service in Buffalo. He said it was impossible to tell how many people picked up applications to mail in later.

Organizers had expected about 10,000 applications Saturday and Sunday at Memorial Auditorium.

Unemployment here reached a peak of 12.7 percent in 1982, about the time Bethlehem Steel was closing its massive plant just south of the city in Lackawanna, according to state Labor Department statistics.

″For a long time, we were No. 1 in the state (in unemployment,)″ said Labor Department analyst Ron Scrace, who called the new plant ″a significant happening. It’s not often we get 300 jobs.″

The unemployment rate had dropped to 8.5 percent by January, the latest month for which figures are available, but that is still the third-highest rate in the state. Many former steelworkers, including Sawicki and his brother, Peter, have had to change their lifestyles drastically.

″You pull together,″ said Peter Sawicki. ″It’s tough getting used to living on a decent salary and then you’re down to nothing.″

″You lose your job, you lose your pride,″ added his brother, noting that when ″the company went down, we went down too.″

The new GE plant will be housed in a section of the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Blasdell.

Pautler said that while trying to bring jobs to Buffalo is discouraging, the GE project may be a good sign.

″They came to the area because they knew we have people with the skills,″ he said. ″Western New York has people who are laid off and who have worked with heavy industry. Now it’s up to us to do more recruiting to take advantage of that workforce.″

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