When Xidex Corp. abruptly closed its Irvine computer disk plant Oct. 14, a state labor market analyst predicted that its 825 workers would soon find new jobs. After all, the analyst said, Orange County had one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates, its economy was booming and other manufacturers were clamoring for skilled workers. Three months later, job placement and counseling agencies report that many former Xidex workers are still searching for comparable jobs. Several days after the plant closing, The Times asked former Xidex workers Gil Banfill and Kalina Nicolov if they would share their job hunting experiences. The Times accompanied them on job interviews, visits to the Employment Development Department and job counseling sessions. Here are their stories.
In the elevator of a county government building, Kalina Nicolov hugged herself for a moment and shivered.
At the age of 50, she was considering going back to school. She had no doubt it would be the best thing for her to do. But it was scary.
Seven weeks of job hunting had proven frustrating. She had driven from one company to another in a large industrial area near her one-bedroom Tustin apartment and learned that she was unqualified for any kind of job that would pay enough to support her and her son.
Nicolov, one of 825 workers whose jobs were lost when Xidex Corp. abruptly closed its Irvine computer disk plant in October, had come face to face with the biggest problem experienced by many victims of industrial layoffs in Orange County.
To earn a decent living, she was told, she needed to develop new skills through one or more government-funded retraining programs. But to pursue retraining, she needed to figure out how to stay alive.
A refugee from Bulgaria, Nicolov had fought a political battle to come to the United States to be with her son and husband and attempt to build a better life.
Suddenly, that dream seemed to be crumbling.
A year ago, her husband lost his construction job and moved to Las Vegas to drive a taxicab. And in October, Nicolov was thrown out of work when Xidex Corp. abruptly closed its Irvine computer disk manufacturing plant.
"I felt like somebody hit me with something," said Nicolov, whose wages had increased from $6 an hour to $7.61 during her 4 years as a quality control inspector with Xidex.
"In Communist countries, they never lay off people like that," she said. "What good is freedom if you can't do anything about it?"
As she hunted for a new job with companies in the industrial greenbelts of Irvine, she said, she felt like "the only one in America who isn't rich."
She worried that she was quickly using up her severance pay and that the $142 in unemployment insurance she received each week wouldn't go far toward covering expenses.
Nicolov figured that she needed to take home $1,200 a month to cover her $600 rent payment, a $260 car payment and other obligations.
Her greatest fear was that her son, Tresseam, might fall behind or drop out of his classes at Rancho Santiago College. "Without an education in the United States, it is a dead end," she said.
Since the Xidex plant closed, he had been working after school and weekends to bring in extra money.
And events were forcing Nicolov to think about her own schooling.
An energetic woman who had regularly worked weekends to accumulate overtime at Xidex, Nicolov was itching to work again. Her initial plan was to conquer the job market by applying at every manufacturing firm that was hiring.
"I go out and look at the (hiring) signs and stop and go in. I go and go and keep going."
But during the second week of her job search, Nicolov pinched a nerve in her back and was laid up for 17 days.
When she resumed her job hunt, the realization sunk in that with her job skills, she was unlikely to land a job paying better than $6 an hour, or $1,040 a month.
And she was handicapped by her shaky command of English and her heavy accent, although less so than many of her former colleagues. At Xidex, most of her co-workers were Cambodians, Vietnamese and Filipinos who spoke less English than she.
She could understand what others said to her, but her grammar was hit or miss. Because she was insecure about her speaking ability, her words were sometimes soft and indistinct.
When she submitted an application at AST Research Inc., a computer manufacturer in Irvine, the security guard made her repeat herself several times until she understood that Nicolov was looking for a job.
To survive in Orange County, Nicolov realized, she would have to become something more than a factory quality control inspector.
She thought of studying massage therapy, a suggestion made by the therapist at the chiropractor's office where Nicolov sought treatment for her back. But she scrapped that plan after she checked into a private program for teaching physical therapy and learned that the courses would cost thousands of dollars.