For some, a day of labor

Published 2:33 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Staff Writer

Labor Day was labor-free for many area residents, but for others work continued uninterrupted on the unofficial last day of summer.
In a series of interviews, a few people said they counted themselves lucky to have jobs in this era of tenaciously high unemployment, despite official word that the jobs picture is slowly, painfully improving.
“Many of you have told me that you want an America that ‘produces things again,’” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was quoted as saying in a transcript of her Labor Day address. “You want a nation that is strong, that leads the international marketplace in innovation and a commitment to quality. And you want a government that is responsive, pragmatic and understands your needs.”
It was unclear how Solis’ words would be received in Beaufort County, where the unemployment rate was 10.6 percent in July, the last month for which figures were available.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in August, according to The Associated Press.
Locally, people whose tasks demanded they be on the clock went about their jobs as if Labor Day were an ordinary day.
On Monday morning, Torrey Jefferson drove a tobacco primer in a field off Slatestone Road in Beaufort County.
Jefferson said he would harvest around 15 acres — or two barns’ worth — of tobacco for Britt Alligood Farms before the end of his workday.
“It’s holding up real good,” he said of the tobacco crop, which the agricultural operation planted along with corn, oats, wheat and soy beans.
Elsewhere, residents took advantage of the bright, warm day to mow their lawns or edge their driveways, while lawn-care professionals who couldn’t afford to take the day off zipped around town, motoring from job to job.
Along with firemen, policemen, hospital staff and other essential employees, more than a few volunteers set aside their day off to help others — and it turned out that some of those volunteers were needed because of the economic downturn.
Sallie Moler, director of the Blind Center in Washington, led a team of these volunteers as they pressure-washed grime and spider webs that had accumulated on the center’s siding.
“It had built up so badly that we needed to do it,” Moler said.
The center used to benefit from the work of a half-dozen prison laborers provided by the state, but budget cutbacks ended that practice, according to Moler.
Monday’s cleanup was part of the staff’s preparations for the fundraising Autumn Area Craft Show, to be held at the center from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Brame Lee, a Chocowinity resident and a center client, pitched in by climbing a ladder to apply a bleach-and-water solution with a garden sprayer.
Lee received vocal instructions from Moler as he sprayed the cleaning solution before the next round of pressure-washing began.
Lee and fellow volunteers joked that their day’s pay came in the form of Arby’s hamburgers, but their smiles indicated they didn’t seem to mind sacrificing a day of rest to work for the Blind Center — another example of pulling together to weather the tough economy.
“It was by need,” said Moler.