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Laid-off workers: Where do they go from here? // Less a financial blow than an emotional one

An occasional series about four Tampa Bay residents coping with life after losing their jobs.

Once, Joannie Lanier felt pride when the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales pranced across her television screen.

"Here comes the King. Here comes the King of Beer," she recited from the beer commercial.

Now the commercial is more likely to make her angry. The King of Beer has made her feel like an expendable serf.

Lanier, who worked as a brewer for Anheuser-Busch for more than seven years, will lose her job when the company closes its Tampa plant later this month.

"It's greed," she said. "There's an insidious belief (at Busch) that other people don't matter. But it's the little guy that helps build the hierarchy."

Lanier said she could understand the plant closing if the company was losing money.

"But they weren't losing money. They just weren't making as much as they thought they should," she said.

Busch's Tampa plant is its smallest and least profitable. And now, with the construction of a new state-of-the-art brewery near Atlanta, the company now has the capacity to supply the Tampa Bay area without needing the Tampa plant.

The Tampa plant will probably be razed, with the land being used for expansion of the adjacent Busch Gardens theme park. The thought of her former workplace becoming the site of a ride is another sore point for Lanier.

So is the severance package recently announced to the 375 Tampa brewery workers. Employees will be given $1,355 for every full-time year they worked at the company.

While Lanier, 38, has worked there for more than seven years, she only worked full-time for about five. Lanier thinks the severance pay is a pittance, especially considering that Busch workers were some of the highest-paid blue-collar workers in the area. Salaries started at $40,000 and commonly climbed to $70,000 with overtime.

Lanier saved scrupulously, and is well prepared financially for losing her job, but that doesn't abate much of her anger at the company, she said.

As part of the severance, workers will also receive 12 tickets a year to Busch-owned attractions.

"What are we going to do? Go and look at where we used to work?" Lanier asked.

Busch once made its workers feel like they were part of a family, a team that worked together to make a good product, Lanier said. "Suddenly, we feel as though we have been disinherited from the family," she said.

The news of the plant closure was announced in October, but Lanier still doesn't know when her actual last day at work will be.

All the uncertainty has made workers even more on edge, Lanier said.

"Everybody just pretty much wants it to be over," she said. "At least then you can bring finality and closure to it. ... I can't look (for a job) and work, because you can't give anybody any projections" of when you could start work.

Lanier especially feels bad for her co-workers. While she was once a middle school teacher, many others at the plant don't know another profession.

"My heart goes out to them because they have families, they have children in private school, they have monumental debt," she said.

Lanier worries little about her own future. She lived conservatively, has no children to support, and saved during her years at the brewery. After the layoff, she plans to go back to school at the University of South Florida to get a bachelor's degree in management information systems.

"The plan was to never stop educating myself,"' she said.

Still, she knows there will be mourning for her old job.

"It felt good being a part of the family and a part of the team," she said. "I took a lot of pride in my work."

Joannie Lanier

Age: 38

Job: Brewer for Anheuser-Busch

Prospects: Plans to get a degree in management information systems.

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