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Hershey: Trying to Stay Positive

At 52, Ramona Lopez says she is too young to retire and too old to find a new job easily.

"It is hard, but I want to think positive," said the native of Guadalajara, Mexico, who moved to the Central Valley in 1985. Since then, she's worked at two plants that have been shut down -- Escalon Frozen Foods, which closed in 1994, and the Hershey plant in Oakdale.

Lopez, seen wiping away a tear above, started as a temporary worker at Hershey in the packing department, earning about $6 an hour. She later was hired as a permanent worker, which doubled her pay to $12 an hour and provided medical benefits. Her salary rose to $16 an hour as she worked her way through other departments in the plant. After 11 years with Hershey, she was let go in September.

Lopez, who last attended school in Mexico in 1973, knew that she would have a difficult time finding a job that paid as well as Hershey without a U.S. high school diploma.

In January, she began taking General Educational Development classes. She's received approval for retraining funds from the federal Trade Adjustment Act, which was set up to help workers who lose their jobs because the company they worked for moves production out of the United States.

With that assistance, Lopez hopes to retrain for a clerical job in the medical field.

Although she is sad about the closure, she's not bitter.

"I just feel blessed that I got to work for Hershey for 11 years," Lopez said. "Now it is in God's hands."

-- Christina Salerno

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