3M announces record layoffs

Tuesday, September 23, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

Columbia’s 3M manufacturing plant announced Monday it will lay off 124 workers within the next two months, marking the largest single round of layoffs in the plant’s 33-year history.

The plant, which employs 741 local workers, will eliminate jobs of some salaried workers and lay off other employees paid on a per-hour basis, said spokesman Bill Nelson. Company officials said the move, which will affect 17 percent of the plant’s total work force, is a reaction to the recession and the struggling electronics and telecommunications markets.

“We had to make decisions based on the fact that demand is soft,” said Marty Ingels, human resources manager for 3M. “We’re a very important supplier to those markets, so when those markets are down, so is our business.”

Total sales down

Total sales for the year are down 27 percent, Ingels said. The decision to cut workers was made last week after manufacturing and corporate managers gathered to forecast the effects of lower demand, Nelson said. He said managers communicated the bad news to the employees as quickly as possible.

Workers will lose their jobs in three waves starting Oct. 10 and ending Nov. 21, Ingels said. He added that this sweep of layoffs is the largest since the plant opened in 1970. Monday’s layoffs are the latest since the company eliminated 70 jobs between March and May 2001 and markthe fourth cycle of layoffs in the plant’s history. Each time, the company blamed layoffs on a sagging economy.

Columbia’s plant mainly produces flexible circuits for ink jet cartridges. The circuits send signals to computers. In addition to the weak economic environment, there has been lower demand for these products recently, Nelson said.

“It’s never a good time to be laid off,” said Bernie Andrews, marketing director of Regional Economic Development Inc., a public-private partnership that focuses on local economic development.

Andrews expected the Missouri Division of Work Force Development to send a rapid-response team to talk to laid-off workers about benefits and getting other jobs.

“It’s still a good place to do business,” Andrews said.

Mayor Hindman surprised by announcement

Mayor Darwin Hindman and Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins said they were surprised by the announcement.

Hindman said he has noticed a trend of downsizing at the national level and said it was only a matter of time before it affected the city.

“I regret the impact on the individuals,” Hindman said. “That is my first concern.”

Watkins said he hopes the layoffs are a temporary trend.

“I suspect right now times are tough in their business,” Watkins said. “I know they’ve bought additional property that they don’t need at this time, so that’s a good sign for the long term.”

Hourly employees might be asked to return

Nelson said hourly employees affected by the layoffs might be asked to return to 3M if business improves and the company needs them.

“If business improves, they’ll be the first ones we call back,” Nelson said.

Nelson also said that the Columbia plant plans to diversify by manufacturing more 3M products in the future.

David Griggs, REDI’s board chairman, sympathized with the displaced workers but was optimistic that the local economy is rebounding.

“It’s regretful that any of our local companies are faced with a situation like this,” Griggs said. “Nobody wins in a situation like this. Hopefully we can get these people back to work soon.”

Missourian reporter Kellie Foster contributed to this report.

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