Honeywell suspending HF production, laying off 75 employees



Honeywell1By Ron Giofu


Honeywell has notified its workforce of impending layoffs and 75 workers will be impacted starting later this year.

Honeywell informed employees of its Amherstburg production site Monday morning that it will be suspending production operations at the facility. It is similar to the suspension of production that occurred at the site from 1992-96.

“Honeywell today is announcing a suspension for at least the next two years of hydrofluoric acid (HF) production at its Amherstburg, Ontario, site. The company is taking this step because of lower demand for HF, which is used in the production of fuels, refrigerants and other materials,” the company said in a statement. “The production suspension will result in a layoff of most employees at the site beginning later this year and continuing through August 2014. Layoffs will be conducted in phases, allowing the company to safely transition operations at the site. The layoff will affect approximately 75 employees at the site. A few security and maintenance personnel will remain on-site. The plant is currently undergoing regularly scheduled maintenance. Once completed, the plant will resume operations until it has depleted its current supply of raw materials.”

Peter Dalpe, spokesperson with Honeywell, said the company told employees in August they would not take another shipment of the plant’s raw material this year because of lower demand and that they were slowing production to match that lower market demand. Since then, market conditions have not improved and the company does not foresee improvement in the short term, Dalpe stated.

“The workforce reduction will be conducted in a phased approach. As for length of the production suspension, the company will continue to monitor market conditions and make decisions based on business needs. In the end, market demand will determine future operations in Amherstburg. That said, the production suspension is expected to last at least two years,” said Dalpe.

Dalpe emphasized this is a suspension of production and not a closure.

“As for the future of the plant, to be clear, we are not announcing a closing of the Amherstburg plant. Again, we will monitor market conditions and that will dictate if the plant will resume operations. As for residents, the reduction will be conducted in a phased approach, allowing for the company to safely suspend operations at the site. Security and maintenance personnel will remain on-site.”

Dalpe added that employees of the site are able to apply for open positions at other Honeywell sites.

“This development will have no impact on the remediation project on the adjacent former General Chemical property,” Dalpe stated.

Bill Wark, president of Unifor Local 1959, confirmed they were told Monday morning about the mothballing of the plant.

“It isn’t a closure,” said Wark. “It’s a mothballing of operations or a suspension of operations.”

Wark said there have been rumours circulating, especially since August when the shipments of raw materials was stopped.

Wark added there are 46 hourly employees at the plant. The 75 impacted encompass both the bargaining unit and salaried company employees.

“It is very disappointing,” he said of the news. “The impact on employees in the next year or two is quite substantial. We’re talking about people’s livelihoods. These are good paying jobs that support our community.”

Joseph Capaldi, plant chair with Local 1959, said each employee is impacted differently. He said some people had a tempered reaction to the news while others were taken aback by it.

Capaldi said he appreciated the fact company officials showed up and told the employees directly of the news.

“It sets us back a bit but I’ve always gone with the fact you have to deal with it,” said Capaldi. “The truth is something most people can deal with.”

Layoffs will begin once the supply of raw material is used up. Capaldi said Honeywell’s sister facility in Louisiana is capable of “picking up the slack” while the Amherstburg plant is mothballed. In the meantime, Capaldi said the company and workers have agreed to come together and to continue operating safely until the layoffs begin.

Capaldi was one of the employees impacted by the 1992 mothballing so he is urging others like him to aid the younger workers through this period. He is hoping the HF market turns favourably once again.

“We can’t predict the market,” said Capaldi. “We’re hoping the market will swing our way.”

The employees were assured by company officials the suspension of operations is not a reflection on them.

“It’s no fault of ours,” said Capaldi. “We’ve met all the metrics they asked for. It’s just a downturn in the market.”

After Monday night’s town council meeting, Mayor Wayne Hurst said the news of the two-year layoffs was tough to hear, calling the news “devastation” when he heard it. Hurst said layoffs such as this have a “tremendous social impact” on the town as now people do not have employment to go to.

“There’s nothing more difficult than someone going home and having to say to their wife and children that the job they were doing is no longer there,” said Hurst.

While hopeful the layoffs last no longer than two years, the mayor said the town is actively trying to seek new employers to come in but the marketplace is very competitive. Hurst said they would like to attract long-term jobs but those are tough to come by.

“The mindset is we have to try as best we can to generate new tax revenue,” said Hurst.

Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland admitted he was caught off guard by the news as he first heard about the layoffs when he went to town hall Monday morning.

Sutherland said the town is constantly looking for economic development and that the planning department is staying busy with “a number of things in the works.”

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