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Washington liquor employees brace for the unemployment line

Associated Press
Control Board clerk Lidia Giusti uses a metal bar to straighten rows of liquor on shelves in Oct. 31 at a new state liquor store in the West Seattle neighborhood of Seattle.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The mood in state liquor stores across Washington is subdued. More than nine-hundred state employees face lay-off with the passage of Costco-backed Initiative 1183 .

At the state-run liquor store in Issaquah – headquarters of warehouse giant Costco – lead clerk Kris Bennett was bracing for a somber day, but could still muster a sense of humor.

“Just another day, I’m just here to do my job which I love, by the way or I loved (laughs),” Bennett says.

Bennett says she’ll be okay. Her mortgage is paid off and her husband works. She’ll miss the health insurance though. But she says some of the store’s seven employees face significant hardship. One clerk, Bennett says, could lose her home.

A gut punch is how store manager Gene Blair describes the vote. He’s 64 and says he can’t afford to retire yet.

“Social Security doesn’t start until 66 and I’m going to be struggling to try and find something that we can pay our bills with,” Blair says.

Blair adds that’s the biggest worry for all of his employees: how to get a job at their age in this economy. The state liquor board says the average store worker has been on the job nearly a decade.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.