A Georgetown company is closing its doors after 37 years in business putting 137 people out of work. Employees at Curwood Packaging Ltd. on Armstrong Ave. were told by company officials Wednesday morning their plant would be closing by the end of March. Curwood Inc. of Oshkosh, Wisconsin (the Georgetown company's head office) also announced the closure of the local facility in a press release issued that day. Steward for the 91 plant employees at the Georgetown company who will be losing their jobs, Mark Hancock of Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union of Canada, Local 591G, said both salaried and unionized employees at the plant were stunned by the news that "came right out of the blue." "This is devastating for the employees, most of whom have been with the company a long time, and we were shocked to learn that the company has not even considered options to keep the plant open," said Hancock. Curwood spokesperson Melanie Miller, of Bemis Co. Inc., Curwood's parent company, said the Georgetown plant, which makes flexible packaging for cheese, condiments and confectionaries, would cease production of all products by the end of March 2006. She said no firm date for the closure was available at press time. "Business currently produced in Georgetown will be transferred to other Curwood production facilities," said Miller. The Georgetown location is the sole Curwood facility in Canada, with several other plants in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana.
"Some customer service functions will remain in Georgetown until they are transitioned to the other Curwood facilities. Curwood will continue to operate a warehouse and business office in Georgetown," said Miller. She explained some sales employees will remain at the business office. Details on that office's location, have not been arranged yet, she added. Miller said the decision to close the Georgetown facility "was based on the company's desire to consolidate production capacity in the high barrier flexible packaging business." The company will continue "servicing the Canadian flexible packaging market with products in the meat, cheese, liquid, snacks, coffee and specialty markets," said Miller. The employees at the plant will receive severance pay and counseling to help them find new jobs, she said. Norm Beattie, president of CEP Local 591G, said the "state-of-the-art packaging plant has a long and profitable history in Georgetown, with current Canadian sales in excess of $50 million." "There is no reason to close this plant other than to shift the work to the United States," said Beattie. Hancock said the employees who will be losing their jobs include office employees and the plant staff who work as press operators and coating and laminating equipment operators at a rate ranging from $22 to $25 an hour. The unionized employees were in the midst of union negotiations and have been without a contract since October.
"I'm one of the lowest seniority there," said Hancock who has worked at the company for 18 years. "Probably about 70 per cent of the employees have been there 15 years or longer."
Hancock said, "everyone is in different situations," when asked how the closure will impact the employees.
Halton Hills Mayor Rick Bonnette said Thursday he was "shocked by the sudden nature of this announcement," and told Curwood head office officials he would be willing to fly to Wisconsin to meet with them to try to persuade them to continue in Halton Hills.
However, he said he was told a personal visit wouldn't change the decision to close the plant, and when he and Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong went to the plant Thursday to try to speak to head office staff there, company officials refused to meet with the two politicians.
CEP representatives said company officials have also refused to meet with them.
" These employees built this company and are owed more than this," said CEP Ontario vice president Cecil Makowski, who is calling on the company to meet with union officials and politicians "to explore alternatives to the plant closure." "The employees of Curwood are experiencing a huge impact here," said the mayor. "The Town will do everything it can to improve the out come. It appears that we cannot convince the owners to keep the plant open. We will work with them and the various levels of government, and the union, to make all financial settlements as favourable as possible." "This closure affects hundreds of Georgetown area families and my thoughts are with them in this difficult time," said Chong. He said his office has contacted the local Government of Canada office to ensure EI benefits and other employment services are readily available for the affected employees. "It is my hope that Curwood cushions this blow by providing good packages for the workers at the Georgetown plant," said Chong.