Al Miranda and Roger Torrey listened to the 11:25 a.m. whistle telling them that they had five minutes to finish lunch and get back to work.
“You’re not going to hear that whistle too many more times,” Miranda, 59, a machinist at the General Dynamics Corp. shipyard, said in a tone mixed with sadness and bitterness.
The two men, who have worked there for most of their adult lives, are among the last to be laid off. The shipyard’s work force, at 6,000 when layoffs began last year, is now less than 1,000.
The 102-year-old yard, which employed 9,200 in 1967 and up to 32,000 during World War II, officially closes Sunday, a victim of the nationwide decline in shipbuilding.
Miranda, leaning against an old-fashioned cash register, points to the empty seats at Ma’s Lunch, an institution for more than 30 years across from the shipyard’s main entrance. “This place used to be filled with guys having a cold beer or a cold tonic. Look at it now--one, two,” he said, beginning to count the handful of customers at the height of the lunch break.
The Brockton man is typical of those remaining at the shipyard. His father worked there for 37 years when it was owned by Bethlehem Steel. Miranda has worked there for 21 years and makes $11.53 an hour.
“The thing is, at 59 or 55, where do you go from here,” he said. “How can you put into words what’s happening around here. I don’t know.”
Few have been affected by the shutdown more than Zaida Shaw, a round-faced, smiling woman who runs Ma’s and lives above the diner with her two sons.
“It feels like when you lose part of your family,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “All we want to do is work, and you can’t work. It’s just not right.”
Shaw’s life has always involved the shipyard. Her father, four brothers and sister worked there. One brother used to bring co-workers to the family’s house across the street for a lunchtime feast of her mother’s Lebanese delicacies.
“They kept telling her to open it up as a restaurant because she was such a good cook.” So, in the early 1950s, that’s what Agnes Hassan did, with the help of her daughter Zaida and the 10 other children.
“We’re going to try to stay open and attract outside business,” Shaw said. “We’ve got family to support.”
She still hopes another industry will buy the shipyard and breathe life back into the rusting buildings.
Her competition down the street is not as hopeful.
“When they close, I close,” said George Chahime, 35, of Norwood, the owner of Mae-Fare Coffee Shop.
Chahime, who said his once-bustling business has dwindled to a trickle, shakes his head when asked about the future.
The last hope for many is a union-initiated employee buy-out.
But a local leader of the shipbuilders union said recently that General Dynamics is removing vital equipment, making an employee buy-out impossible.
General Dynamics officials said only non-essential equipment has been moved out, and state officials have said they have been given guarantees by the company that there is ample equipment at the site to produce ships.
But most workers aren’t optimistic that such a major step can be accomplished.
Joe’s, a tavern across from the main entrance, already has made major changes. The bar that had a heavy lunch business is now a “sports pub,” complete with wide-screen TV, basketball hoop and darts.
The owner of the 70-year-old bar “saw the writing on the wall,” said the bartender, who refused to give his name. He started working at Joe’s about a month ago--after he was laid off after eight years at the shipyard.