Early Retirement Was Not an Option

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Wearing a suit now, because that's one of the "tools" of the insurance trade.

Wearing a suit now, because that's one of the "tools" of the insurance trade.

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.

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About Rachael Myrow

Rachael Myrow hosts the California Report for KQED. Over 17 years in public radio, she's worked for Marketplace and KPCC, filed for NPR and The World, and developed a sizable tea collection that's become the envy of the KQED newsroom. She specializes in politics, economics and history in California - but for emotional balance, she also covers food and its relationship to health and happiness.

Comments (3)

  1. Lisa Van Rosendale says:

    I really admire Jason and all the workers at NUMMI who continue to believe in the American Dream and take what could have been a bitter end and turned it into a new opportunity. I work with him at his new job and he is fantastic. Maybe he should have been in insurance the whole time. He’s a people person after all and no shoulder injuries anymore. Great interview Jason!

  2. Joe Farinha says:

    Jason started working at Nummi on my team back in early 1997. Yes… Jason is for sure a people person, and he is now on a profession that suits his personality much better. Some times in order to chase the “American Dream” we (middle class) have to work on jobs that aren’t really a perfect match to our personalities. Jason’s body & spirit survived the hard years worked on an assembly line. I’m glad his positive attitude is still with him after the setback of this forced transition.
    I’m glad I had a chance to work with him. The only thing that kept him from being a perfect Nummi teammate was the fact that he was such an avid 49er fan….;))) Keep on going Jason…no need to pull the cord!

  3. I’m glad to see all the wonderful responces on here and on Facebook after I posted it! It’s so nice to stay in touch with my NUMMI family on FB, we’ve gone through alot together, we’ve cheered each other on and gave each other a hard time on the line to pass the time, but when one of our brothers or sisters lost a loved one we were there to support them also. Life is too short to dwell on the past. If this story says anything it’s when your backs to the wall and you have to take a leap of faith, leap far my friends…leap far and find your next dream!