New owners offer buyouts to Pittsburgh’s Heinz workers

Heinz insists that it is not planning to leave its hometown of Pittsburgh and says all workers who take buyouts will be replaced.
Heinz insists that it is not planning to leave its hometown of Pittsburgh and says all workers who take buyouts will be replaced.

PITTSBURGH — The new owners of H.J. Heinz Co. have offered buyouts to all workers in Pittsburgh, where the ketchup-and-food giant has been based for decades, but insist the offer doesn’t signal a plan to move the company’s headquarters.

Heinz, which was acquired for more than $28 billion last June by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, has offered employees — those who stayed around through the sale hoping that the new owners would be a good fit — a second chance to leave.

Voluntary buyout offers were sent in letters to 775 employees in the Pittsburgh area last week, with deals that start at six months’ severance pay and increase depending on years of service. Workers have until Monday to make up their minds.

The deal was offered only to those who have been with the company at least a year.

Heinz continues to reiterate that it is not planning to abandon its hometown. Anyone who takes the buyout will be replaced, leaving the ketchup maker with the same size work force in the region, according to the company.

“Heinz realizes that its new dynamic and results-driven culture, focused on efficiency and meritocracy, may not be the perfect fit for every employee,” said Michael Mullen, senior vice president of corporate and government affairs.

“Consequently, we have decided to provide a generous opportunity for eligible employees to leave Heinz with enhanced severance benefits.”

Certainly, after 10 months with new CEO Bernardo Hees in place, employees have had time to see how he operates.

The former Burger King chief executive quickly cleared out much of existing management to put in his own team and instituted, as expected, his style of open offices, long hours, fewer layers of management, and zero-based budgeting, which requires that each year’s financial plan start from scratch.

Last summer, the newly private company began shedding weight. Six hundred office positions across the United States and Canada were cut, including 350 in the Pittsburgh region.

Concern over how the new owners operate triggered a meeting in Pittsburgh last month by unions that represent Heinz workers across the world.

Based on what has been done so far, the unions believe the company plans to close plants and also to “squeeze the number of workers in the existing plants by combining jobs and increasing workload of each employee.”

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Teresa F. Lindeman is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact her 412-263-2018.