When Carriage House workers were notified in March the company would be shutting down its local operations, layoffs were scheduled to begin Oct. 24, with the plant to close by May 24, 2015. That was the information in the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification notice filed by ConAgra with the state's Department of Labor.
Those dates have been changed, with layoffs to begin sooner and leaving most of the employees out of a job sooner than originally expected. According to a July 3 WARN filing by ConAgra that was posted online by the Labor Department on July 7, layoffs are now scheduled to occur between Oct. 3 and Feb. 28, 2015, "with few employees left on site to wind down operations."
In addition to the 395 workers in the Fredonia Carriage House, seven more will lose jobs at the Talcott Street facility with 21 more being affected at the Stegelski Avenue warehouse.
"We originally told employees that there would start being job impacts in the October-November timeframe," said Daniel Hare, senior director of Communication & External Relations for ConAgra. "We've given people approximately 90 days of notice prior to their last day of employment and we are keeping our employees and union leaders informed as more information about the timing becomes available.
"Also, we are working with potential buyers and will continue through the process of selling the property."
Tom Dickerson is the president of SEIU Local 266 NCFO, which represents the union workers at the Fredonia and Dunkirk facilities.
"They told everybody who was going to be laid off in October and probably in November they'll be doing the rest of the letters. They've given everybody a 90-day notice. If they lay you off before that they have to pay you," Dickerson said, explaining that was due to a change in state law requiring companies to pay workers for the full length of the 90 days. "They're trying to do everything legally the best they can, but it's like being on death row in that place."
Not all the employees are sticking around to the end.
"There's been a bunch of mechanics who quit and a few people who went to Purina, so I'm going to say there's probably 350 out of the 400-some, about 50 left. ... Our top electricians left, it wasn't hard for them to get a job at all," Dickerson explained. "There's people who are looking for jobs, there's people who are going to wait around and get their severance. There's only so many jobs anyway. People are applying for them but as far as getting anything out of New York state, you're not going to get anything out of them. Everybody thinks that with this closing they would pay for your training and all this, that's not true.
"That's a big misconception."
Dickerson said 70 employees will be laid off in October and the severance payout was based on years of service.
"Hopefully somebody buys that place, they lifted the restrictions," the union leader stated. "I hope somebody buys it and does something in that town because there are going to be a lot of people hurting."
For more than 80 years the company operated as the Red Wing Co. Inc. under various owners. Ralcorp Holdings Inc. bought the former Red Wing Company in 2000 and it became part of Carriage House, a Ralcorp subsidiary. ConAgra bought Ralcorp for $5 billion in November 2012 and in January 2013 all of Ralcorp, which included the Dunkirk and Fredonia Carriage House facilities, along with Petri's in Silver Creek, was purchased by ConAgra. ConAgra's facility in Fredonia is currently the largest private employer in the village and one of the top 25 in Chautauqua County.