A Wisconsin-based manufacturer’s consolidation plans will put about 200 local employees out of work by April 30, the company announced Friday.
A union leader held up the decision as proof that right-to-work isn’t the answer for Indiana.
Manitowoc Foodservice, which makes conveyor-style restaurant ovens at 1111 N. Hadley Road, is creating a new American Ovens Division headquarters in Cleveland, where it will consolidate all oven production. The company’s products include convection ovens, which cook food faster than conventional models.
About 20 Fort Wayne workers were offered transfers within the global corporation.
And about 12 workers will continue working for the company at a local satellite office that will focus on customer service and technical support for restaurants using Lincoln-brand ovens, spokesman Wayne Bunch said.
Bunch, vice president of human resources for The Manitowoc Co., said officials expect about 200 workers will lose their jobs after final decisions are made regarding transfers.
Production employees, who earn $18 an hour on average, were notified of the closure Friday. First-shift workers were given the news at noon then sent home for the rest of the day with pay. Second- and third-shift workers were called at home with the news.
Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 237 represents hourly workers in the factory: 173 working and about 50 already on layoff.
Mark Mettler, the local’s president and business manager, said company officials had previously announced they wanted to consolidate oven production in either Fort Wayne or Cleveland and were reviewing incentives package offers from both communities.
Both workforces are unionized and paid comparable wages, Mettler said. He believed the Fort Wayne plant had the edge because it is newer.
“There was no advantage for them – none,” he said of Cleveland. “It doesn’t make sense. I was just shocked.”
Manitowoc’s decision is proof that Indiana’s right-to-work law, which took effect March 14, isn’t a magic bullet for attracting or retaining jobs, Mettler said.
The law’s supporters say it keeps workplaces from requiring union membership, thereby enticing more employers to create more jobs for Hoosier families. But critics say it’s just an effort to weaken labor organizations.
Indiana has a right-to-work law, but Ohio doesn’t. If the law’s supporters were right, Indiana should have had an advantage when the company’s officials made their choice, Mettler said.
“It shows you how that (law) has absolutely no bearing on when a company makes a decision,” he said.
The first round of job cuts is expected about Dec. 31, Bunch said. He wasn’t sure how many workers would be affected at that time. The remaining cuts will come in stages as production lines are moved to Cleveland, with the final plant closure date scheduled for April 30.
Manitowoc acquired Lincoln Foodservice Products Inc. in 2008. The following year company officials decided to sell the Smallware Division, which made cookware and food preparation equipment such as slicers and blenders. The division employed about 100.
At that time, the company’s total Fort Wayne workforce was about 400.
Kathleen Randolph, president and CEO of WorkOne Northeast, said there’s hope for the affected workers.
“There are more job openings (in northeast Indiana) for production workers than there are for any other kind of position,” she said Friday.
However, many workers don’t have the advanced manufacturing skills employers now require, she said.
That’s why Randolph encourages people to work with her office to assess their skills and create training plans, as needed. Manitowoc’s workers are eligible to enter training programs, and WorkOne staff will meet with them soon to review options, she said.
Training, which can be anything from an intensive to 12-week program to a two-year associate degree, is provided by a third party, such as Ivy Tech Community College, IPFW or the University of Saint Francis.
Manitowoc’s stock closed Friday at $14.30, up 55 cents in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The announcement comes just one day after financial services company Lincoln National Corp.’s announcement that it cut 37 jobs from its local workforce.
Although job elimination announcements were common during the recession that began in December 2007, they have become much less frequent in recent months.
The Indiana Department of Workforce Development, which tracks large-scale job loss, recorded only one announcement in August and two in July. The department has one listing this month: Peabody Energy, a Vincennes mining operation, will put 230 employees out of work when it closes at the end of the year.
Allen County’s preliminary unemployment rate for July was 7.7 percent, compared with the state’s overall rate of 8.3 percent.