Losing jobs

Newell lays off 200, leaving officials pondering how move could have been avoided

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News of layoffs at Newell Rubbermaid sent shockwaves throughout the county last week, and not just for the employees involved.

All 600 employees were notified of the move on Thursday, April 10, in an early morning meeting. The company then gave the 400 employees who were keeping their jobs the day off. The 200 workers affected by the reduction in force stayed behind and learned of resources to help them cope with the corporate decision that had suddenly left them pondering unemployment.

Connie Bryant, public relations manager for Newell Rubbermaid, said the move came when management chose to shift manufacturing of products from the Maryville facility to Newell Rubbermaid facilities in Texas and Ohio that make similar products.

“For reasons of efficiency, it makes sense to transition that manufacturing to those facilities,” she said. “We have approximately 600 people employed at the Maryville facility, and this will affect 200 positions in injection molding, so 400 positions will remain at the Maryville facility,” she said.

The items made at the Maryville plant that will now be produced in Texas and Ohio include waste baskets and business card holders. The Maryville location will continue to make plastic extruded products such as writing instrument components, barrels and caps for writing and chair mats, she said.

Bryant said the company is doing several things to help those being laid off. “We announced this to our employees on Thursday. By giving them several months notice we wanted to give them as much time as possible to prepare for the future,” she said.

Bryant said the jobs will continue until around Sept 1. Following an end date to be announced later, they will be eligible for supplemental unemployment pay.

“Employees who work through their designated separation date will be eligible and will qualify for unemployment,” she said. “Our policy will provide these associates with compensation equal to their current salary less Tennessee unemployment compensation, so basically they’ll get a full salary.”

Bryant said the supplemental pay will be based on years of service and position with the company. Newell also is providing outplacement and career transition service through OPI of Knoxville to help them prepare for their job searches.

“We’ll work with them to help provide resources to help them with job searches,” she said.

Civic leaders were upset that the company didn’t let them know a layoff was eminent.

County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said the county, through the Industrial Development Board, wasn’t given the opportunity to help the workers find jobs. “They put us in a scramble position,” he said.

The mayor said company officials refused to return calls from the Industrial Development Board vice president Bryan Daniels. “This was the Industrial Development Board that set down incentives for Rubbermaid to come in,” he said. “I’m tremendously disappointed in the way it was handled from get go.”

Bryant said the decision to lay off the workers was not made lightly. “It definitely was a difficult decision,” she said. “It was no reflection of the quality, valued work of our employees there.”

Bryant said the company chose to notify their employees of the situation before talking with anyone else outside the company. “We think it’s important to tell our employees first about decisions that affect them, and then we notify local officials,” she said. “We did that after we told our employees. We still have 400 employees in Maryville. We are dedicated to the community and our employees.”

Cunningham said he was thankful Denso has opened a new plant and is creating jobs and that Alcoa, Inc., is expanding. “These are two stellar companies, as we all know, and they’re very dedicated to the welfare of Blount County. We certainly appreciate their corporate citizens.”

While Bryant said the jobs leaving Maryville were going to Ohio and Texas, the mayor said he would be curious to see if any of those jobs were eventually moved to Mexico.

“It becomes a matter of patriotism to where the loyalty should be to the employee and not so much to the dollar,” Cunningham said. “Let’s watch carefully and see how many of these jobs jump over the border.”

Daniels said he would like to work with the employers to help them find work for the displaced employees. “We have several manufacturers that would love the opportunity to interview these people and try to provide careers for them,” he said.

Daniels said that the Industrial Development Board would have preferred the opportunity to get involved before the company announced the layoffs to see what they could have done to save the 200 jobs.

Daniels said that he and company officials simply missed one another’s calls starting about three weeks ago. Then about 10 days before the layoffs were announced, Daniels said he couldn’t get any communications with the company.

“We started hearing rumors from other manufacturers that Sanford was closing,” he said. “We started trying to make contact with company officials.”

Now the county should simply attend to the challenges at hand, finding jobs for the affected employees, Daniels said. “We need to look forward and concentrate on finding those people who were displaced new opportunities,” he said.

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