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A Job in Manufacturing through a Kodak Lens

Kodak black and white film is offered for sale at Central Camera in Chicago, Illinois. Kodak, which once had a 90 percent market share of U.S. film sales filed for bankruptcy in 2012.   Scott Olson/Getty Images

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Kodak, a company once known as a titan of the manufacturing industry, bankrupt in 2012. As it fell into economic turmoil, it went from having 150,000 employees to 65,000 today. Kevin Armstrong shares his story after working at Kodak for 35 years.

Former Kodak worker Kevin Armstrong.

Shift work itself is hard on you. I mean, I used to say, you could take 10 years right off the top of your life. But, you know, we had so many good friends. You know, when you work shift work like that, your whole world is those people that you work shift work with— the guys that are on your shift! If I went hunting, I went hunting with the guys from work. If I went fishing, I went fishing with the guys from work. It’s where I spent my life.

I’ll tell you, as a single guy, I really had it made. I had a nice home, I could take care of my family. I always drove a new car. I wanted to go on a fancy vacation, I was able to do that. I wouldn’t have made that income any place else. That was the skills I had.

My last 15 years, it was terrible, not only because there were actual layoffs, but there were always rumors. I mean, the rumor mill went on nonstop. You never knew who was going to be next. We saw an awful lot of people with 25 and 30 years in the company, get laid off. And jeez, these are people with families and mortgages. And you knew, your co-workers, you know, this is going to happen. And at the same time you felt lucky, “Aw, they missed me on another go-around.”

I retired in December of 2007. We used to say guys bled Kodak yellow. I was never one of those guys. I never realized that I loved the company until I started seeing these buildings come down. And, it’s emotional.

I drive through these southern-tier towns, I see one town after another. The main streets are all boarded up. The factories that supported those communities are gone. It’s really sad. Really, really sad.

This story was produced as part of our election series, How the Deck is Stacked, in collaboration with Frontline and PBS NewsHour. You can find more stories related to this series here

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