Last year, appliance manufacturer Electrolux announced the closure of its plant in St. Cloud, which spelled the loss of 900 jobs for the area. When the plant closes at the end of the year, it appears the economic blow will hit an often-overlooked workforce as well.
More than 300 workers from nonprofit organization WACOSA will lose their jobs when the facility closes at the end of this year, according to the St. Cloud Times.
Based in Waite Park, with additional locations in St. Cloud and Sauk Centre, WACOSA arranges job opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Through WACOSA, 312 people have been doing work for the Stockholm, Sweden-based Electrolux under a contract basis.
Their jobs largely involved the manufacturing process: cutting installation tubes, assembling and testing bulbs and sockets, and putting together cardboard packaging spacers. WACOSA’s production department assembled more than 9.25 million pieces in 2017.
"The folks we serve... They want to be a working, vital and important part of their community," Steve Howard, WACOSA’s executive director told the St. Cloud Times. "We're only now grasping just how devastating [the Electrolux situation is] going to be for us."
Nearly half of the individuals WACOSA served last year—312 out of 687—were employed under the Electrolux contract.
Howard says the organization is trying to find other opportunities for the impacted disabled workers. He hopes the state’s current labor shortage problem will help draw employers’ attention to WACOSA’s workforce, and help the employers look past the misconceptions they usually hold toward disabled laborers.
“We’ve got a workforce... our individuals that we're serving here are differently-abled, but they are very able," says Howard. "We're not held to a lesser standard.”
Some of WACOSA’s other contracted organizations are trying to provide more jobs within their own workforces for the displaced Electrolux individuals to take up. New business contracts are also being pursued.
With such a significant volume of people to redistribute, however, Howard expects it will take time.
"We're trying to be as creative as we can," says Howard. "We will do just about anything we can to keep our people working."