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Immigrant workers, aid groups scrambling after Abbott lays off hundreds of temporary workers

Ari Snider
Maine Public
Abbott has laid off most of the temporary workforce at its Westbrook facility, pictured here in 2021. Many of the impacted workers are new immigrants who had been employed making COVID tests throughout the pandemic.

Abbott Labs has laid off most of the temporary workers at its Westbrook facility, including hundreds of immigrant workers who had been assembling rapid COVID tests during the pandemic.

Abbott did not say how many workers were let go, but social service agencies said it's around 750 people.

One of those is a Congolese man named Doudou, who came to the U.S. with his wife to seek asylum.

He said both he and his wife lost their jobs at Abbott last week with little notice. Speaking Portuguese, he said he’s concerned about being able to pay rent, and not sure where to get help.

Meanwhile, Kate Fahey, with the Peer Workforce Navigator Project, said her group is one of several scrambling to connect displaced workers with unemployment benefits and other forms of assistance.

"We are struggling to meet the demand. And this really, in order to actually meet the demand, it really needs to be that sort of widespread, coordinated approach across community based organizations and of course, in conjunction with the Maine Department of Labor," Fahey said.

Fahey said it’s especially important to help these workers who have been making COVID tests for the last several years, recognizing that they were on the frontline of the pandemic response.

Abbott said the layoffs are the result of an expected decline in demand for COVID testing, and that the company is providing affected workers with ten days of extra pay.