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Capping an Era : Out of work: As the Stroh brewery closes, three laid-off employees share their plans and hopes for a more stable future. : Don Daniels: 54-year-old bottler : Daniels has spent the last 32 years in the brewery business. He escaped familiar territory, rural Kentucky, for the unknown, the promised land of rich California. He is hoping to land a job at the Anheuser-Busch plant in Van Nuys.

February 22, 1990|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"I was 20 years old. I was wild. I had joined the Marine Corps in Kentucky during the Korean War when I was 17, and when I got out, I didn't know what I was going to do. I stayed in Kentucky for six or seven weeks, and it was rough. The work was bad, and it was starting to get cold. So I hitchhiked out to L.A. I had an uncle there. He had a friend whose whole family was in the brewery business. He got me in the union, which, in those days was hard to do. You had to be recommended.

"I've heard a lot of people say they enjoy going to work. I've never enjoyed it, but I've never minded, either. It used to be a lot more fun than it is now. We get a break every hour, for seven minutes. You have a person who comes in and relieves you. It used to be that you could drink all the beer you wanted while you were on break, but it hasn't been that way for six or seven years. Now you can't drink any on break. We still call it the beer room; the new people call it the break room. You just smoke and read the paper.

"I've always been pretty lucky, being on the floor where you move around a lot. It's not nearly as monotonous. If you get stuck on the machine for 7 1/2 or eight hours, you're just at one spot. Some of these people get stuck on the line, and they're there for 20 years. I've loaded trucks. Now I take care of all the filling, make all the beer changes, take care of changing tubes. We have so many different brands of beers. You may be running 5,000 cases of Stroh's, and then you have to change to Schlitz, and change the crowns on the filler.

"Right up until the end, we thought somebody was going to buy us. It really took a lot of people by surprise. We all thought for sure they would keep this plant open because it's the only one on the West Coast. And, still, we can't understand why they're doing it. And they still don't have nothing west of Longview, Tex. They didn't advertise enough to keep it going. They had a good thing going with Alex, the dog. Everyone loved that commercial, and now that's gone.

"I'm used to getting up at 4:30 every morning, starting work at 6. Now I'm going to have to work on graveyard, because the shifts go by seniority, and I'll be on the bottom. And I have trouble sleeping during the daytime. I talk to people who have spouses on graveyard, and they can't sleep during the day. Eat at 6, and sleep until they go in. Can't go to movies. Have to have a completely different life.

"And that's if I find a job. I'll put in at Anheuser-Busch. You have to wait until they hire someone again, but then you're at the bottom of the list. Even, with the 20 years we have, if someone's been over there a year, their seniority prevails. You're starting over. I had every intention of retiring here, and you figure, after 30 years of working, you'll just coast the last few. You made it this long, the rest is gravy. But what else am I going to do? I'm 54 years old. I can't retire."

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