Werner will shut down Merced plant in mid-October; 140 workers losing jobs

08/18/2011 10:01 AM

08/19/2011 12:04 AM

The Werner Ladder Co. decided to shut its Merced production facility this week, a move that will put 140 production employees out of work at its Grogan Avenue plant.

The Merced location, which produces fiberglass and aluminum-step and extension ladders, will shut its doors in mid-October. Those to be laid off include clerical staff, maintenance staff and production workers.

The company's Merced distribution center, however, will continue to operate indefinitely, said Nancy Mackey, human resources manager. The distribution center employs 15 to 20 workers.

The Merced division "has been, and continues to be, a very productive and efficient operation but maintaining excess capacity in an extremely difficult economic climate has a detrimental impact on overall company performance," the company wrote in a letter to the media.

Werner Ladder, whose corporate headquarters are in Pennsylvania, acquired the facility and distribution center from Keller Industries in 1999. It has other manufacturing locations in Mexico and Kentucky and warehouse locations across the country.

"It was a business decision, capacity issues due to the declining economy," Mackey said. "The demand is not there, and there was too much capacity, especially on the West Coast."

Last year, Werner made 1.1 million ladders at the facility. In the past, employee numbers had fluctuated from 100 to 225, Mackey said. "We have a wonderful group of individuals who are very dedicated," she said of the local work force.

The Merced County Department of Workforce Investment will work with the California Employment Development Department to provide unemployment insurance information and training information to the workers, according to David Heyer, a program manager with the department.

The Workforce Investment Department also will make its training services available.

Heyer said group orientation meetings will take place for the workers between now and October. Separation benefits and possible work opportunities at other Werner locations will be reviewed with the employees on an individual basis, according to the letter.

City Manager John Bramble called the closure decision "very disappointing." The federal government requires the company to send a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification to the city of Merced when a company lays off 50 or more employees. The company is required to give the city 30 days notice under California law, Bramble said. The city has not received such notice.

But after the city receives does receive notice, it can direct potential employers to the Merced County Department of Workforce Investment for job opportunities for the workers.

Mackey echoed the explanation of many U.S. companies forced to lay off employees: "Difficult decisions must be made for the long-term benefits and stability of the organization as a whole."

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.

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