Saputo Inc. announced Wednesday that it will close four of its facilities, including its cheese plant in New London.
Two of the plants to be closed are in Canada, while the other U.S. plant is located in Hancock, Md.
The first facility closure is scheduled in May 2014 and the last closure will occur in December 2015.
In a letter sent to Mayor Gary Henke, Saputo Sr. Vice President of Human Resources Bruce Unterbrunner said the closure of the New London plant will result in the permanent layoff of 67 hourly employees represented by the General Teamsters Union, Local Union No. 662, and 11 salaried employees. These layoffs are expected to begin on August 23, or within 14 days thereafter.
Layoffs include 31 cheese production workers, eight maintenance workers, seven cheese packaging workers, six cheese supervisors and managers, five shipping and receiving workers, four lab workers, four sanitation workers, three milk receiving workers, three cheese graders, three administration workers, one lab supervisor and one maintenance manager.
“Saputo expects that these layoffs will be implemented on an on-going basis dependent upon production requirements,” said Unterbrunner in his letter to Henke. “All affected employees will receive a minimum of 60 days notice prior to being permanently laid off or, alternatively, will be paid for sixty 60 days in lieu of notice. All layoffs of bargaining unit employees will be conducted in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement currently in effect between Saputo and the General Teamsters Union, Local Union No. 662, and some employees may have bidding or bumping rights available as set forth in the applicable collective bargaining agreement.”
A representative of the union said they are disappointed with the announcement.
“It is never easy to hear that our members will be losing their jobs. We at Teamsters Local 662 are obviously very disappointed and upset,” said Rick Skutak, Secretary/Treasurer of Teamsters Local 662. “There are 56 full-time good paying Union jobs with great benefits that are going to be lost. We will be sitting down with the employer to negotiate a severance package for these folks that will be affected. Teamsters Local 662 will help work toward placement of these displaced workers with other employers that are represented by the Teamsters.”
City officials were also disappointed to hear the news but said they are committed to offering assistance to those affected by the layoffs.
“It is with a heavy heart and great disappointment that the City of New London received news that our Saputo Cheese plant is scheduled for closing,” said New London City Administrator Kent Hager in a statement released Monday, March 31. “Through various owners over the course of the last 60 years or more, the Saputo Cheese plant has been an active and valuable member of our local economy. Their employees, management and staff are not only very important members of our community but our friends and neighbors. To them we offer our sincere sympathy. We also offer them our assistance in any way we can.
“During these trying times, one has to try and think positive,” continued Hager. “While corporate decisions such as these can be devastating for a community, these decisions can also serve as a reminder that we are human and we need to pull together as a community to survive and go forward. We hope our regional friends and neighbors will help us to do so.”
In all, approximately 180 employees will be impacted by the four plant closings in the U.S. and Canada.
The company says the move to close the four plants will improve operational efficiency. Current production will be integrated into other Saputo facilities.