The News Journal recently reached out publicly and asked former DHL/ABX employees to share their experiences before, during and after DHL shut its doors locally.
These are their stories:
Darrin Tissandier, Louisville, Ky.
Darrin Tissandier graduated in 1986 from Blanchester High School. After serving in the U.S. Air Force for four years (where he met his wife), they lived in Brown County.
Darrin started working at the Airborne Express sort center in Wilmington in 1992, and by 1994 he was a junior aircraft mechanic there.
“It was a great place to work,” he said. “A lot of good people.”
He said they knew that layoffs were coming, and the announcement was made in the spring. In August they began taking voluntary layoffs and he decided “to be one of the first ones out the door.”
“I had two kids in high school,” he said. “I didn’t want to chase air maintenance jobs around the world. I started a business installing medical equipment in hospitals.”
The new business was going well until “the economy crashed in 2009 and hospitals quit spending money.”
His business was down to one employee besides himself, so he worked in construction and excavating and tried to keep his business going.
“I did that for over a year,” he said. “Then in 2010 I had opportunity, from a former Airborne Express guy, to go to Afghanistan with Blackwater Aviation as aircraft inspector.
He did that for three years and three months — December 2013 was his last rotation.
He eventually shuttered his own business for good. He applied for the UPS management training program, and after nine months was hired as a line maintenance supervisor.
He did that for a year-and-a-half before taking his current job as an aging aircraft inspector for UPS. He flies all over the world for UPS — his recent trips include to Taiwan, Singapore and Germany — although most of his travel is within the U.S.
Through all the turmoil of the 2000s, “By the grace of God we never got behind on one bill,” he said.
His wife had complete nursing school in 2000. Their third child was born in 2004. They had built a new house in 2005.
His wife had been working part-time, “But when I got laid off she stepped up into high gear, working as much as she could, and we were able to keep our heads above water,” he said.
He said he estimates he’s one of about 40 former Airborne Express employees now at UPS in Louisville — including some that commute from this area to Louisville, including …
David Allard, Hillsboro
David Allard, 51, is originally from Indiana, but he, his wife of 31 years and three kids have resided in Hillsboro since 1993. The three kids are grown and still live nearby.
David started working at Airborne Express in 1993, first working in hangar maintenance, then on the flight line, then in maintenance control.
He said that in 2008, “We knew layoffs were coming; the writing was on the wall. DHL was the total opposite of Airborne. We knew we were losing customers.”
He said he was with DHL “until the end” when he was one of the last two laid off in maintenance control in spring 2009.
At the time, the Allards’ three children were all in college.
He said he tried to remain upbeat. “A lot of people were nervous, but I knew there were jobs out there.”
He applied at many companies and took a job as a part-time mechanic with UPS in Springfield, Missouri; friends of his who worked there said he could eventually get on full-time.
“Things didn’t get tough on us until the year at UPS … paying bills, paying for a place to live in Missouri, and the kids in college,”
He said that period “drained our savings”; we had to go to bank to see if we could pay half of our house payment, but we only had to do that one time.”
For a year-and-a-half he commuted every week to Missouri — a 10-hour drive.
He joined the UPS management training program, and since 2010 he’s been a maintenance supervisor in Louisville.
He continues to commute from Hillsboro to Louisville (2.5 hours one way). While in Louisville he’s one of 7 residents of a “crash house” with men from St. Louis, Indianapolis, Ohio and Michigan.
Some of those work at Southwest Airlines — in Dallas.
Of his days with Airborne Express in Wilmington, he said, “Ask anybody that worked there; they’ll tell you it was the best company they ever worked for.”
Deanna Liermann, Wilmington
Deanna Liermann is a lifelong Wilmington resident married for 37 years to Bill, a current city council member. They have two sons, who graduated in 2000 and 2013.
She started at Airborne Express part-time in 1987 and after a few months went full-time in inventory control in the aircraft parts section until 1997. She then was in engineering for three years as a component research analyst, analyzing what parts were effective for the company’s planes, handling part requests and more.
“That wasn’t my niche,” she said, so in 20o0 she returned to inventory control as a material assistant.
Meanwhile, husband Bill had been working part-time evenings at Airborne in sort along with his other vocations.
Deanna was a material assistant until 2009, when she “was the last one out the door” in her department.
“I really liked my job,” she said. “Great benefits, and great people,” she said.
“When DHL came in we thought everything would be great,” she said. “But then we discovered it wouldn’t be so great when DHL made the announcement in Germany that they were doing away with everything and we’d all be without jobs. That caught us all by surprise.”
She said that was a challenging time for the Liermanns, especially since their son Scott, then a WHS freshman, had just been accepted as a People to People Ambassador to Europe, but “we got it figured out,” she said.
Deanna said they were fortunate that she had been there 22 years (and that Bill had only worked there part-time); she was paid through October. She said her family got through that period “as a team.”
“It was a really scary time,” she said. “Some entire families worked at ABX. People I worked with had to sell their houses; some even moved out of the country to get a job.”
By June 2010 Deanna got a job at R+L carriers, where she worked until 2015. “I’d learned a lot about the shipping industry in 27 years at ABX”, she said.
On Feb. 2, 2015 she started working for the Clinton County Auditor’s Office in the Real Estate Division.
“I enjoyed my time at ABX,” she said. “I made some lifelong relationships and still have friends from there today.”
James Garner, Wilmington
When he was 16, James Garner started working at the air park on Saturdays and Sundays as a “teen sorter” with a work permit. Being a juvenile, he was not allowed to be on equipment. When he graduated from high school, he moved to working through the week at night, receiving full-time benefits and getting in 30-some hours weekly.
After about four years, he became a Cushman driver at the air park hauling “exceptions” which he said were the bigger boxes that couldn’t be put on the conveyor belt. As a Cushman driver, he was outdoors a lot, including in winter.
“I liked it enough and the pay was right. I could afford to make house payments on that money,” which he described as comparable to 40-hour wages.
He suggests that DHL tried to do too much too fast when it established its North American superhub in Wilmington.
Garner recalls that two weeks before DHL’s bombshell announcement in May 2008, he was in a celebratory mood when he paid off his last student loan. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Wilmington College, where he attended while also working at the air park.
Garner heard there was going to be a big announcement and on the morning of the announcement from Germany he went to the house in Wilmington where American Postal Workers Union organizers resided. When those gathered heard DHL’s plan to partner with UPS, there was “a lot of swearing, including me,” said Garner.
As a 15-year employee, he received 16 weeks of severance pay or basically four months worth, when he left in December 2008. Though he had this “window of severance” to find a job, the Great Recession was at its depth and, says Garner, “there was no job to be had.”
He went to the Transition Center that had been set up for displaced workers. He got certified in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, and he took a resume-writing class.
He was on unemployment from April 2009 to May 2010 when he got an out-of-county job where he didn’t work every day and which, he said, he “grew to hate that job.” He was there until March 2014 when he got a pizza delivery job with Cassanos in Wilmington.
“It wasn’t bad work but it wasn’t well paid. I didn’t do bad on tips, but it was minimum wage. But it was ‘a job is a job’ kind of thing,” he said.
Meanwhile, although he was able to keep the utilities going, over time he couldn’t make his house payments. He asked his father to pay it for him.
“I’ve had him bail me out of foreclosure three times,” he said.
One time they were going to foreclose on him for $172, he recalled. “I’m surprised the judge didn’t laugh at somebody,” Garner said.
He was on the Save the Dream foreclosure prevention program and his house payments were paid for a year and a half before reaching the program’s limit.
He also filed for bankruptcy, related to having credit-card wage garnishments.
“Why do you think that was? I was unemployed for a year and a half, living on credit cards,” he said.
Garner’s story turns brighter in 2015 when he was hired full-time at Dealertrack in Wilmington. Financially he said he’s doing a lot better. A senior document agent, he is making ends meet.
“Took seven years to get there. Went through a couple of dead-end jobs to get to the one that I think might be where I’m going to be for a long time,” he said.
Dawn Gunkel, Wilmington
Dawn Gunkel has been the News Journal circulation supervisor since 2013. The WHS grad was a third-shift lead ground sorter with ABX, where she worked for 17 years.
She had started there in 1992 to make money for college, and she earned a two-year degree from Southern State.
But the job and the money were so good at ABX that she made it her career as she and her husband, who works at R+L Carriers, raised their two boys.
Then came the announcement.
“We had started seeing the writing on the wall, but we never thought the ground sort would go,” she said. “It was a shock when it came down one day that I was out of a job,” she said.
“We had just built a house six months before.”
Even with a few months’ severance pay, the family had to closely watch their finances; eventually their oldest son had to leave college.
As thousands of workers here and in surrounding counties became unemployed, competition was tight for any job openings; she would be unemployed for a year-and-a-half.
She finally got a job at a daycare facility, which closed after a couple of years, before ending up at the News Journal.
“We still have to ‘tighten our belts’ to this day,” she said.
Rick Moreton, Sabina
“My last day was May 1, 2009. I had over 28 years with Airborne Express/ABX Air. It was a great run. I was working in the Base Shop area as an Electrical Component Technician.
“This is what I didn’t imagine happening. I thought for sure I would get my 40-plus years in and retire around 65. Being 50 and in a wheelchair — a double negative looking for a new job — was not fun.
“It put my wife and I in a big jam. I started looking for jobs from Blue Ash to Grove City to Dayton. Plenty of job fairs, group and phone interviews, one-on-one interviews and internet searching on Indeed … nothing. I am sure when you are disabled what all companies do first is to see what you will cost them insurance-wise and what modifications to their work area. It stressed both us and our family members out and started playing with my mind. Good thing I had my two dogs to keep me company when Steph went to work.
“I decided to look for a part-time job. I can work so many hours without it affecting my SSDI, which I reapplied for and was put back on. I finally got a part-time position at The Nike Factory Store at the Tanger Outlet Mall. A lot folks are surprised to see someone in a chair advising them on athletic shoes and clothing. I was our Store Employee of Fiscal Year 2017.
“A lot happened in-between, though. I started to volunteer with several places just to get out of the house. First was at D & G’s working with Janet Schultz and her staff working with the dogs, next was to become a volunteer for the City of Kettering in several positions , then Little Hearts Big Smiles and finally at WALH Radio.
“Things have gotten better with all this going on. Meeting a lot of folks at these places. Everyone knows I have not met a stranger and I talk way too much.”
Jason Quirk, Van Wert County, Ohio
“I had been with Airborne/DHL from just after high school graduation until July 2009. I worked in the sort, then Airborne logistics,” Jason Quirk told the News Journal. “I was a lead over an account that sorted eyewear for Walmart and shipped to their stores. The last nine months I was able to stay employed by tearing down racking and clearing out offices of laid-off supervisors.
“After my let-go date, I was unemployed for about a month. I took the first job I was offered, driving to Columbus five and six days a week. This was the time when gas passed $4 per gallon.
“I worked at Essilor in Columbus for over two years. I eventually found work closer, in Washington Court House at the Wal-Mart distribution center. I worked there for three years until I met the woman who I would eventually marry.
“I moved up to Van Wert County to start a life with her. I started working at Lakeview Farms in Delphos, Ohio. I have been there for nearly four years and became a lead, then eventually a supervisor in their shipping department.
“For many years I regarded Airborne as the best job I ever had. I dearly miss my old friends, co-workers, and management who mentored me and I grew up with. It took 10 years, but I found my place and success I never quite achieved at DHL.
“It still breaks my heart every time I get to drive through Wilmington and see the airport. I miss watching the planes land and take off.”