CARTHAGE, Mo. —
Workers at Innovative Industries in Carthage ended a walkout Tuesday after protesting the hiring of a new general manager to oversee the sheltered workshop.
About a dozen workers gathered Tuesday morning in the parking lot of the operation at 421 W. Centennial Ave., holding up signs and seeking public support for their stance.
The workers protested after the workshop board hired Jeff Jones to succeed Larry Lloyd, who retired last month after 30 years as general manager. Jones formerly was chairman of the board of directors. He said he resigned from that post to seek the general manager’s job, a paid position.
Several of the workers said Jones has no experience working with the disabled, and they wanted the job to go to Charlie Torres, workshop assistant manager, who has been with the program for five years.
After discussions with Jones later on Tuesday, the group ended the walkout, said Jason Price and Bobby Viar, two of the workers.
Price said Jones talked with the picketing workers and asked them to go into the workshop to continue talks.
“We’d rather have Charlie, but we’re willing to give it a try,” Price said.
He said workers agreed after Jones outlined his goals for the operation.
“We think everybody knows how we feel, and we still think it’s unfair,” Viar said. “But we have to work, and we’re going to give him a chance.”
Jones, who is a member of the Carthage Board of Education, said he had served on the board of directors of the workshop for three years. He said he applied for the manager’s post “because I believe in the mission, and I think I can make a difference and help the workshop grow.” He formerly worked at Schreiber Foods in Carthage, and most recently worked for Cars on the Move, a vehicle transport business based in Webb City.
Later Tuesday, Jones said he was glad that he and the workers “were able to find some common ground.”
“They wanted to make sure they were being heard, and they were,” he said. “We want to be transparent with them, and communicate better.”
Jones said most of the workers on duty Tuesday were involved in the picket. The said he believes some of the workers’ discomfort stemmed from the fact he is replacing longtime manager Lloyd.
He said workers also cited a provision in state law that specifies that members of some boards are not eligible for employment within 12 months of leaving the board. He said attorneys have told the board that the restriction does not apply to the workshop board.
The board is not governed by that law, but it must follow its own bylaws and procedures, said Fulvio Franzi, director of extended employment sheltered workshops for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s division of special education.
“Hopefully, the board is making decisions based on best practices and ethics, for what would be in the best interest of that organization that provides employment opportunities for people with disabilities,” he said.
Torres, at work Tuesday, said he had been told that he and Jones were the finalists for the manager’s post.
He would not comment on the protest except to say: “I think people with disabilities are showing they have rights. They want to have a say.”
Innovative Industries in Carthage employs about 35 workers.