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Published: Sunday, 8/22/2004

Local Libbey plant tries for more work

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Some of the work from the California plant could wind up at Libbey's Ash Street plant. Some of the work from the California plant could wind up at Libbey's Ash Street plant.
LONG / BLADE Enlarge

Libbey Inc.'s decision to close a 200-employee glassware factory in California is not related to plans to build a Chinese factory - and it will add 60 jobs in Toledo or Louisiana, its leader said.

Faced with higher costs for packaging, utilities, and other uncontrollable expenses nationwide, the Toledo tableware company last week announced it will consolidate U.S. manufacturing into its two larger glassware factories, which have more than 1,000 workers each.

Less workers will be needed to do work transferred from the 41-year-old City of Industry factory because managers and other salaried employees already are in place in Toledo and Shreveport, said John Meier, Libbey's chairman and chief executive.

"Operating in California is expensive," he said. "We were not operating the factory full."

Paul Irwin, head of the union representing the California workers, said Libbey tried to hang onto the factory for the last few years to see if the economy would improve but costs were too much.

Some glass-making machines were idled more than a year ago, eliminating about 50 jobs, said the 30-year plant veteran and president of United Steelworkers of America Local 705.

"Just about everyone in the place knew we've been on the bubble," he said.

"This isn't Libbey's fault. This is the economy."

Libbey has begun negotiations with Toledo and Ohio officials for proposed economic incentives to move the factory's work to Toledo, Mr. Meier said. Similar talks will take place in Louisiana, he said.

The California factory is to close Feb. 15, and Local 705 had negotiated minimum severance packages for workers in 1989, Mr. Irwin said.

Rumors have circulated for a decade that the California factory would be closed, said Bruce Harmon, president of the largest union at Toledo's Ash Street factory, Steelworkers Local 700T. The plant has 1,200 workers.

"I don't think it had anything to do with their production capability or anything else - it was the cost of doing business," he said. "I hate to say this, [but] fortunately it's them, not us."

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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