Jason Medeiros worked at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. for about 14 years. He started on the truck frame line, installing engines and connecting brake lines. He worked the night shift for the first three years. That was a hard physical challenge, but that wasn't the end of it.
About nine years in, he developed a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He was off work for about six months. Five years later, a wrist tendon "blew out on me." He was out for eight months that time.
"You work your body like a machine," Medeiros says, "and parts wear out eventually from the repetitious work." But he loved the people and he loved the pay, especially given the fact he had no college degree.
"Towards the end of NUMMI there, I was back in the pit with the trucks, torquing this and doing that. You know, your arms are just moving everywhere. The same shoulder was getting ready to pop. I was just praying, 'Please, I hope I make it to the last day, so I can collect my full severance.'"
NUMMI management offered a "retention" bonus to keep workers on the job until the very last day of operation, but injured workers on disability got only the minimum. He made it, and walked away with $47,000...before taxes ate 42% of that.
Medeiros was 44 years old. His wife worked part time in the computer lab at a local elementary school. Early retirement was not an option.
At a job fair at Ohlone College, he saw a table for Farmers Insurance, and hatched a plan. He'd never done sales before, but he liked the product as a customer, and considers himself a "people" person.
After NUMMI closed, Medeiros started classes at Quick Learning School in San Jose, studying to get a license to sell property and casualty coverage. He figures he's making a third to a half of what he was making at NUMMI, but anticipates his client base will grow, and with it, his income. He might match his old salary in three years.
Initially though, there are lot of start up expenses. $7,000 for the used but dependable car. $1,000 for the suits. The 400 Facebook friends, at least, are free.
Something like 10 of the NUMMI friends he keeps in touch with have gone to work for Space System Loral, a commercial satellite manufacturer in Palo Alto.
"The parts that they're putting on these satellites for going out into space are really expensive," Medeiros says. "They want people doing the job right every time. So they're looking for the NUMMI people."
Does he feel tempted to join them? No, he says. He's got both feet in insurance now.
"I'm not going to need any surgeries from doing this work."
We found former NUMMI workers for this story using the Public Insight Network. What's your story? We're all eyes. Post it here.