The following Monday, more than a dozen Garcy workers met with local leaders to discuss what can be done to save the 115 or so jobs that will be lost beginning with the first layoffs, scheduled for March.
Garcy, owned by parent company Legget & Platt, manufactures store fixtures for retailers such as Aeropostale and Old Navy. News of the closing hit workers hard at the 35-year-old facility.
Charles Thacker has worked at Garcy for 14 years. His fiancée works there as well. He said the prospect of losing two jobs in the same household is hard to swallow. When asked what his plans are, he had no easy answer.
“I’m fixing to turn 47 so I don’t know. I have no clue. There’s no jobs anywhere,” Thacker said of the difficulty in finding work in the current economic climate. “We were fixing to get married, and we might have to postpone that. We don't know yet.”
Legget & Platt isn’t talking much about the closing, but in a press release last week the company said: “the decision to close the Piedmont facility is in no way related to the abilities or productivity of the employees at the local facility.”
The closing, the press release went on to say, is the result of a consolidation of similar operations within the company.
When asked if the company offer severance pay to employees, Legget & Platt spokeswoman Valerie Glaze wrote that they have asked the workers’ union at Garcy to provide them with possible meeting dates to begin the bargaining process.
The Garcy facility was one of 17 manufacturing facilities owned by RHC Spacemaster, which filed for bankruptcy in 2003. Legget & Platt acquired RHC that same year, taking over operation of the Piedmont plant.
Legget & Platt operates 140 manufacturing facilities in 18 countries. It is unclear where the products currently being made at the Piedmont facility will be manufactured once Garcy closes.
Legget & Platt, based in Carthage, Mo., sold off seven of its businesses in September of 2010 for a combined $433 million.
“The successful completion of our divestiture program played a crucial role in enabling us to keep our promise to shareholders,” Legget & Platt CEO and President David S. Haffner said of the sale. “It provided cash that we have used to repurchase shares of our stock, increase quarterly dividends, and further strengthen our balance sheet. Since implementing our new strategy at the beginning of 2008, we have generated Total Shareholder Return of 42 percent placing us in the top 5 percent of the S&P 500 companies.”
The Monday meeting
Garcy employee Larry Ballew, 57, spoke at the meeting on behalf of the workers. He said he knows it might be grasping at straws, but he’d like to see the facility stay open. A buyout maybe, a venture capitalist – whatever it takes. He just wants the jobs to stay in Piedmont.
“I understand we can’t make Legget & Platt keep it going if they don’t want to. That’s their decision,” Ballew told the attendees. “We’re reaching at straws but we can reach at the right straw and make it work.”
The room full of employees sat quietly throughout the meeting. They asked few questions as Ballew and a half-dozen local leaders spoke about the closing.
“I hope management don’t take it personally, but I do take it personally that they’re closing the plant. I really do,” said Ballew with a shaky voice. “The guy over the plant got really emotional (when telling the workers of the closing), and I appreciate that. We’ve got to find a way to make it work if at all possible.”
But the task is large, many of the speakers admitted. Most fell short of admitting a buyout was unlikely. Instead, they offered encouragement and gave advice on how to move forward.
Mayor Brian Young said he’s not had much contact with Leggett & Platt, other than receiving a letter stating the plant would close, and the message that the company would not be sending a representative to the Monday meeting.
Young said he and the Piedmont City Council will do whatever is needed to help try and keep the plant open, and in the event that fails, to help the workers find new jobs. Young asked anyone with leads of prospective new owners of the plant to contact him.
“I can’t promise that we can sell it, but I can promise that we’ll try our best,” Young said.
Sherri Sumners, president of the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, promised her office would do whatever it took to help the workers at Garcy, and she had some concrete plans in place to begin doing just that.
“We always try to approach things to protect what we’ve got, but if we can’t do that, then how do we transition people on to something else,” Sumners said. “The unfortunate part of it is that we’re losing a lot of jobs around here. In some ways we feel like we’ve been unfairly hard hit. It also means there’s a lot more competition for the few jobs that are out there.”
The good news, Sumners said, is there is more attention directed to the area’s unemployed population. A job placement program called Operation 1st Rate, to help workers affected by the Anniston’s chemical incinerator shut-down, will be made available to Garcy employees, Sumners said. Workers will be able to use a specialized job search engine and sit down for one-on-one job consultation. Sumners invited workers to visit the program’s website at www.operationfirstrate.com to begin their job search.
An additional program called Rapid Response, run by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, will bring in people to inform those who are newly unemployed about services to help them locate new jobs. Sumners said she would set up a time for members of the Rapid Response team to meet with the workers.
Don Hopper, executive director of the Calhoun County Economic Development Council, said he was heartbroken when he learned of the plans to close the plant. Hopper said that while there are things stacked against the area in terms of attracting new businesses – the largest of which was the lack of a four-lane highway into Piedmont – the town has many qualities that can’t be found anywhere else.
Hopper touted Piedmont's nationally recognized schools and the natural beauty of the area. The job losses, he said, stem from something much larger than what is happening here in Piedmont.
“When I moved here 10 years ago, Springs was our largest manufacturing employer in the county, and we’ve all seen that go. We’ve seen Bostrom cut back some over the years, and now we see this with Garcy.
With Springs, we were still producing the best product, but we can’t compete with the worldwide competition. I don't know what the issue is here (with Garcy) ... but we can work to find that out,” Hopper said.
So many closings in one small town
The Standard Coosa-Thatcher Cotton Mill now stands in the middle of town as a reminder of the almost 100 years the mill provided jobs for Piedmont. The mill closed in 2001.
Seven years later, Springs Industries – a major supplier of bedding to large retailers – closed its Piedmont plants, leaving 325 employees out of work. Springs moved their production to the Reynosa, Mexico.
“It’s concerning. You wonder when it’s going to end,” said Piedmont School Superintendent Matt Akin. “I for one believe there’s a bright future for this community.”
Akin said he has students with parents at Garcy, and while he worries for them, he still has hope that things could turn around.
“I know some of them. I haven’t given up that maybe the decision will change,”Akin said.
After the meeting, Ballew expressed a bit of hope.
“It made me feel so good. All the representatives and resources that came,” Ballew said. “It doesn't guarantee something is going to happen, but people are looking into it.”
Contact Eddie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call 256-235-3530.
Editor's note: This story has been modified from its original version to correct a typographical error in a quote of Legget & Platt CEO and President David S. Haffner in the 12th paragraph.