ConAgra to Close Two Plants, Cutting 500+ Jobs

ARCHBOLD and PERRYSBURG, OHIO -- Workers at two plants are getting bad news today -- that their jobs will soon be gone.  ConAgra, parent company to some of America's best-known food brands, has told workers it will close plants in Archbold and Perrysburg, cutting more than 500 jobs.

Archbold Village Administrator Dennis Howell says he was informed that the announcement was made to employees Thursday morning that their plant would close in January of 2007.  He says the village office was contacted to set up a meeting with ConAgra officials. The 353 workers in the Archbold plant process the La Choy brand of Chinese food, and Healthy Choice soup.  They are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911.

The company says work from the plant is being moved to a ConAgra plant in Pennsylvania, and another in Texas.  Workers in Archbold will be able to bid on those jobs.

Union officials also say the ConAgra plant in Perrysburg, which makes Snack Pack pudding, will close in December of 2007.  The 165 workers there are also represented by Local 911.  The company says work from Perrysburg will be sent to another plant in Iowa, and a second plant in Wisconsin.

The company says both plants are "underutilized," which is what led to the closings.

Rosendo Gomez, one of 400 ConAgra workers in Archbold who found out the company will shut that plant, is among those who say they feel betrayed because they had "bent over backwards for ConAgra."

"[We got a] cut in pay, stuff like that. We did what they wanted, but this is what we got," Gomez said.

"Talking about productivity, we have 92% productivity. We went from 68%, increased to 92%, and they say close it down," complained Enrique Gonzalez, another ConAgra worker.

Phil Rich, who owns a Ford dealership across the street from the Archbold plant, says the closing will be detrimental to the local economy. "We hope there would be some manufacturing going on here in the future, but right now, it's just the shock of the jobs lost and people out of work and what we're going to cope with locally," he said.

Jefferson Stephens, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 911, says he's shocked by the Archbold closing but that it's a sign of the times in the food processing industry.

According to its web site, ConAgra Foods, Inc. is North America's largest food service manufacturer and second largest retail food supplier, with annual sales in excess of $27 billion.

The La Choy operation is based in Ohio.  According to the web site, Wally Smith and Ilhan New, two friends from the University of Michigan, founded the La Choy brand in 1922. Smith had a grocery store in Detroit and wanted to sell bean sprouts. New, a Korean, knew how to grow them. They formed a business to can bean sprouts, growing them in a bath tub.

The first La Choy plant was built in 1937, but was later closed due to World War II. They moved the La Choy operations to Ohio and eventually its products were sold nationally.

ConAgra Foods' consumer brands include: Hunt's tomato products, Healthy Choice, Banquet meals, Armour meats, Bumble Bee tuna, Louis Kemp seafood, La Choy, Chun King, Lunch Makers, Wesson, Country Pride, Blue Bonnet, Kid Cuisine, Parkay, Reddi-wip, Marie Callender's, Cook's ham, Butterball, ACT II, Slim Jim, Decker, Chef Boyardee, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM Cooking Spray, Snack Pack puddings, Van Camp's, Peter Pan, Hebrew National, Gulden's mustard, Pemmican Jerky, Swift Brown 'n Serve Sausages, Swiss Miss, and many others.

On the Web:
ConAgra Foods: www.conagrafoods.com
La Choy: www.lachoy.com/index.jsp
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911: www.ufcw911.com/

Updated by AEB

Sources: WTOL Staff Reports, www.conagrafoods.com