Christmas provides comfort, but future uncertain for furloughed Hatfield worker
Herald Standard (Dec 23, 2013). Read article online at this link. If you cannot get it online, this is the complete article. Our prayers go out to our dear alumni, Ray and his family during this holiday season knowing that his faith and strength will get him through the hard times. Let us all reach out to Ray and share our prayers to him.
Everything appeared ready for a jolly holiday, but there is a tinge of sadness in the air as the Christner family faces their second Christmas without wife and mother, Michelle Christner, and a future of uncertainty after Ray Christner Jr. lost his job at Hatfield's Ferry Power Station in Greene County in October.
Green wreaths in the windows and colorful holiday blow-ups that feature Santa and snowmen decorate the front of the Brownsville home that Ray Christner Jr. shares with his children. Inside, the mantle on the living room fireplace holds a series of red stockings. Everything appears ready for a jolly holiday, but there is a tinge of sadness in the air as the Christner family faces their second Christmas without wife and mother, Michelle, and a future of uncertainty after Christner lost his job at Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Greene County in October.
“Last year was really bad. This year will be an emotional Christmas morning, but I want to do the most I can to make them happy,’’ said Christner, 29, about his children, Brianna, 7, and Connor, 4. Christner was at work on Sept. 20, 2012 when he received word his wife was being rushed to the hospital. A brain aneurysm caused her sudden death. She was 27 years old. “It’s day by day,’’ said Christner. “It’s still hard to sleep. I’m still waking up a couple times a night. I’d been with her since I was 15. We moved in together when we graduated high school. We were together 10 years. I was used to the routine — going to bed and holding her. Now there’s no one there. “It’s still hard on them,’’ he said of his children. “They say ‘We miss Mommy.’ I tell them there’s nothing wrong with talking about it. Nothing wrong with crying.’’
Being a stay-at-home father is new to Christner, who has been working since he was 15. His first job was after school at a local grocery store. In 2003, Christner began working at Timberline Packaging in Coal Center. He left there in October 2008 to start his job at Hatfield. “That was the best job to have around here,’’ Christner said. “My starting pay was $2.50 an hour more than I had made at five years at Timberline.’’
A member of Local 102 Utility Workers Union of America, Christner was a chemical lab attendant at Hatfield, responsible for the water in the plant from the time it left the Monongahela River to the processing and treatment before being returned to the river. He was also one of about 380 people who lost their jobs when First Energy Corp. deactivated Hatfield and the Mitchell Power Station in Washington County. Officials cited low demand and market prices for electricity and the cost of retrofitting the plants to meet federal mercury pollution regulations that take effect in 2015. When announcement of the closing was made in July, Christner was on vacation in Ocean City, Md., with his children, keeping up a family tradition he started with his late wife. Christner found out about the closing on Facebook.
“A lot of us felt stabbed in the back because it was completely unexpected,’’ said Christner. “July 8, everything was fine. July 9, they were shutting down the plant in 90 days. They dropped a bombshell on everybody.’’ In those final days, the union protested, and government officials tried prevention, but Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station closed on Oct. 18. Christner said he was offered no transfer to other plants, no retraining or schooling. “Basically, it was thanks for your service, take your stuff and go,’’ Christner said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you work. It comes down to their profits and how much they can make.’’
Eligible for unemployment compensation for about six months, Christner has been looking for work but hasn’t found anything yet comparable to his Hatfield salary and benefits. He keeps up with some former co-workers on Facebook, saying some have retired and some have found jobs where they have to travel to Pittsburgh and Morgantown. Christner has no plans to move. “All of her family is here. All of my family is here. If I have to drive a little further, I’ll sacrifice, but I’m not going to move out of this area,’’ he said. For now, Christmas is a comfort for the family, and Christner is trying hard to make it special. “Luckily, I worked a lot of overtime, and I always saved money. As far as Christmas gifts, I’ll be OK,’’ Christner said but noted of his former co-workers, “Not everyone is the same as I am financially.’’
Christner is also keeping traditions that include his wife’s memory, including hanging her picture on the living room wall. “We still hang up her stocking, and we get her a small gift — a necklace — something that Brianna can wear,’’ said Christner. This Christmas, Christner and his children will have a holiday dinner at their home with his late wife’s family sometime during the week. On Christmas Day, Christner and the children will open presents at their home and then visit Christner’s parents. He said Brianna, a straight-A student at Cox-Donahey Elementary School, is hoping for a Barbie Dream House under the tree Christmas morning. Connor would just be happy to see the fire trucks again at Brownsville Fire Company No. 1, where his dad has been a volunteer firefighter for six years. “He pesters me every day about going over there,’’ said Christner. “He likes to see the fire trucks. Whenever we have a parade, I take them on the trucks — like at Light Up Night.’’
It is that spirit of living on for his children that keeps Christner going. And the hope that a brighter future lies ahead. “Given what happened in the past year, after losing my wife, it’s upsetting to lose my job, but I lost something more important than that,’’ said Christner. “It may take me a while to find another great-paying job, but I’ll survive. Things have been rough these last 15 months, but I’m hoping things can only get better from here.’’
Ray purchased this lovely brick in memory of his young lovely wife which now rests in the Alumni Courtyard. She is looking down from heaven above on her loving family wishing them peace and love on earth.