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Job cuts likely at Berne plant

140 on bubble as work transferred

A Berne factory that has had eight or nine owners in the past 25 years is once again in transition, officials said Monday.

Ficosa North America, which operates the plant at 917 Liechty Road, plans to move some work to its other U.S. locations by the end of May and hopes to sell the rest of the business.

It’s unclear how the workforce of 140 will be affected – though it’s likely that some will lose jobs.

Lisa Norris, Ficosa’s Tennessee-based corporate human relations director, said molding and assembly work performed in Berne will be transferred to other factories. Workers are being offered a chance to transfer with those jobs.

“We really would love to have their expertise,” she said, adding that officials realize many employees are reluctant to leave extended family.

But the bulk of the work – and about half the employees – is in the painting operation.

Ficosa is talking to an unnamed company “with a high level of interest” about acquiring that business, Norris said. If a deal can be struck, the new owner would likely employ many of the existing workers.

“I feel very optimistic,” she said.

Ficosa is offering outplacement assistance to those who need it.

Ficosa, which supplies the auto industry, has a long-term lease on the factory, giving it a long-term interest in bringing in a new owner, she said.

The company from Spain still needs to come to agreement with the union that represents hourly workers: Workers United Local 295C.

Ficosa last year asked Berne workers to accept cuts to jobs, wages and benefits, said Pat Cronin, secretary-treasurer of Chicago & Midwest Regional Joint Board of Workers United.

Workers agreed several times to pay and benefits cuts by previous employers to save their jobs. But Cronin said Monday night that they’ve finally gotten fed up.

Cronin said workers asked: “How many times can you do this to me – taking less when everything around me is going up?”

The Berne factory was in the news in mid-2011 after Ficosa filed a notice that it planned to consolidate some operations. The move was expected to affect up to 175 workers, according to the paperwork.

Amy Tumbleson, the HR manager based in Berne, said many of those workers were temporaries. Ficosa started 2012 with 225 full-time employees in Berne, she said. The company now has 140.

sslater@jg.net

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