By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Sidney Richardson said he plans to keep working “as long as the Man Upstairs lets me keep going.” With 70 years on the job at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Gadsden, he’s got a pretty good start.
Richardson, 88, celebrated his 70th anniversary at the plant June 22. When he started working there, it was a different world – one where a 17-year-old could go to work in an industrial plant, where the bathrooms were segregated and the wages were far different.
“When I started working I made less than 50 cents an hour,” Richardson said. Goodyear had no union at that point; the Local 12 organized the plant a few months later in 1943.
Richardson said his father worked at the steel plant, and he’d visited it.
“I saw a stream of something that looked like water,” Richardson recalled. “It was steel. I decided I wanted to come over here.”
Richardson said he started work in reclaiming – a department that doesn’t exist now.
“They did away with it in the 1960s,” he said.
Richardson has had only four different jobs in his years at the plant, in reclaim plant, the Mix Center, Calender/Cutters and his current job, as a forklift operator in Receiving.
Richardson holds a rare distinction: He is the longest-serving Goodyear associate world-wide.
For 40 years, Richardson delivered the local newspaper every morning before going to work at Goodyear. He’s still the longest-serving employee at that position, too.
From 1944-47, Richardson served in the Army – his only extended absence from work other than the difficult days when the union was on strike.
He remembers those as the toughest work-related times, when workers were out for months in 1976, and during a shorter strike in 2006.
A highlight, Richardson said, was the plant’s expansion in 1977 – something that made his employment secure. “I had seven little kids to raise, so that expansion saved me.”
Those seven kids are raised now, and have given the Richardson’s 15 grandchildren. He said there are some great grandchildren, too.
The biggest change Richardson has witnessed is the increased automation in the plant. It’s had benefits, but he’s seen the costs as well.
“There used to be a whole lot of people working here,” Richardson said. “It seems like it’s about half now.”
Goodyear has spend the last week recognizing Richardson. Goodyear Director of Communications Jackie Edmondson said that included five parties. Goodyear executives came in for one, and Richardson’s family attended a dinner for him. And the company has smoked enough chicken on various shifts so that all the employees can help celebrate Richardson’s almost unprecedented accomplishment.
Edmondson said Richardson set out to beat the employment record of Seikichi Kaneshiro, a civil engineer who worked for the federal government for 66 years before retiring at 87. Richardson has bested Kaneshiro in years on the job and years on the planet.
Edmondson said she told Richardson about a woman who worked at Macy’s for 73 years.
“He said, ‘OK, challenge accepted.”
In addition to the parties, Richardson will get some lasting reminders of his status at Goodyear. He already wears a name tag that says “Legend,” and he’s been given a parking spot of his own with his name on it.
“I won’t have to go to that parking lot anymore,” Richardson said. “I won’t have to walk across here,” he said, gesturing across the plant’s grounds.
He said he’s seen a lot of fellow employees get around 40 years in and start looked to retire. Richardson said he around his 40-year mark, he gave it some thought, but just couldn’t see himself leaving his job. He said he thinks retirement would be boring.
And his wife, Lynn, is fine with him continuing to work.
“She likes me coming up here. She likes getting a check every week, instead of once a month,” Richardson joked.