FREDONIA - Workers and union representatives are not giving Carriage House up without a fight.
A community rally is currently in the works to ask ConAgra Foods Inc., the owner of Carriage House, to "do right by the community and employees," according to SEIU Local 266 NCFO retired member Robert Dando, who is helping organize the event and worked at Carriage House for 38 years. SEIU Local 266 is the union that represents workers at the facilities there.
"Our asking for them to do right is basically three points: We're going to ask if it's possible to have some portion of the business stay open, we're asking for a fair severance package for the employees who will lose their jobs, and we're asking that they help the community by not putting restrictions on the attempts to find another business to come in and take over and set up," Dando explained.
The rally takes place Thursday at 5 p.m. in Barker Common in downtown Fredonia. It is open to anyone interested in attending.
Dando added the speakers list is still in the works, but should be firmed up sometime soon. He pointed out various elected officials should be on that list.
"We're going to be talking to set up some final details," he said. "We have to find out about a couple people we're inviting to attend, seeing if they can make it or not."
Dando also addressed the closure process at Carriage House and said he believes much of the equipment will be taken out of the facilities.
"We haven't been directly in contact with them (ConAgra)," he said. "We've asked what their plans are and what they have told us is what they said when they announced they were shutting it down: As soon as they shut a line down, they were moving it out."
Employees of the closing facilities are finding support for their efforts in various places, including on the Fredonia Village Board, which announced the upcoming rally during a recent workshop session.
"I support the efforts of these union leaders," Mayor Stephen Keefe said. "We received a letter from Tom Dickerson (SEIU Local 266 NCFO president) explaining the event and their intent to hold a rally. It was changed to the 29th instead of the 28th because (state) Sen. Cathy Young is available on the 29th."
On March 19, ConAgra announced its intent to close both Carriage House facilities in Dunkirk and Fredonia and lay off about 425 people by early 2015. The average worker age there is 47.
Employees should begin to get phased out sometime in the fall.
Carriage House makes food products like jelly, peanut butter, condiments and juice. The Fredonia facility is the largest private employer in the village and one of the top 25 in Chautauqua County.