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Former Hav-A-Tampa worker helps colleagues find jobs

Laid-off Hav-a-Tampa machinist Ronald Russell, 43, and his daughter Julia, 6, watch Spongebob at their Zephyrhills home on Wednesday.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Laid-off Hav-a-Tampa machinist Ronald Russell, 43, and his daughter Julia, 6, watch Spongebob at their Zephyrhills home on Wednesday.

TAMPA — A June announcement of layoffs at the Hav-A-Tampa cigar company came with a promise to help its 500 employees find new jobs.

Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance counselors offered seven sessions on navigating a tight job market before 300 workers left last week. Job listings lined office bulletin boards.

Assistance comes almost every other day, said Rick Mc­Kenzie, senior vice president of human resources for Altadis U.S.A., the cigar factory's parent company.

But it's not enough for some employees at the Brandon company.

Ronald Russell, of Zephyrhills and a former machinist for Hav-A-Tampa, insists the unemployed need more than basic help. He knows a 22-year-old supporting a 7-month-old baby. He knows couples out of work after 20, 30 or 40 years with the company.

Russell said he had to help.

So he launched www.havatampaneedsjobs.com.

Half of the $60 to keep the Web site up for the next year came from money Russell collected from factory workers. He paid the rest. Seven companies have indicated an interest in hiring former factory employees.

He didn't talk to McKenzie or other factory executives about the effort.

"I don't really see any need to," Russell said. "What can they do? They can't give us our jobs back."

Theresa Collins is one of about 15 members with contact information on the Web site.

Collins, a purchasing coordinator for more than six years at the company, said employees are on their own.

"I was hoping for something," Collins said. "It would make it a lot easier for all of us, but I'm not surprised."

The company does what it can, McKenzie said.

Top employees are pointed out to local businesses calling for workers. Most employees will keep getting paid until Aug. 24. And though openings aren't yet available, he said he'll find spots for eight people interested in relocating to the company's Puerto Rico factory.

"A lot of employees are very upbeat," McKenzie said, who works out of a Fort Lauderdale office. "It really isn't as morbid as you'd think it might be."

Consider Russell.

Eventually, he said, it'll work out. He'll find a job to support his unemployed wife and daughter.

"This isn't the first recession I've lived through," said Russell, 43. "The sky is definitely not falling."

But it's tough. Russell feels bad about spending only $10 on his daughter's recent birthday. She turned 6.

He hopes Christmas will be better.

Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Former Hav-A-Tampa worker helps colleagues find jobs 07/29/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 10:22pm]
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