Foster Farms closing in Creswell.
CRESWELL - Foster Farms, one of this town's largest employers and a longtime supporter of community events, announced Friday that it will close its plant within the next two months and consolidate its remaining Northwest chicken processing operations in Kelso, Wash.
The move is expected to eliminate 53 local jobs by early October; displaced workers are being offered relocation assistance or severance pay. Another 22 employees will remain at Foster Farms' Creswell location to provide plant security and operate the company's chicken waste rendering plant, until a similar rendering facility can be sited and built in Kelso.
"When that gets built, the rendering plant here will be closed down," Creswell plant manager Al Acosta said Friday.
Creswell City Administrator Mark Shrive said the processing plant's closure will directly affect city revenue by eliminating the largest municipal water customer.
"It will also have an impact ... because Foster Farms was a great community partner," Shrive said, citing the company's willingness to support local events.
"That's also going to be a great loss," he said. "They were always working with the (Future Farmers of America) at the high school, and donating products for various organizations."
California-based Foster Farms purchased the Creswell operations in 1987 from the parent company of Fircrest Poultry Farms, and in recent years has had a hot-and-cold history at the site.
About 130 jobs were cut at the plant in October 1998, but the workers were rehired seven months later. In 2001, Foster Farms laid off 140 of its 250 employees.
Acosta said the Creswell plant's days have been numbered since Foster Farms built a state-of-the-art processing facility in Kelso. The local layoffs in 2001 were ordered to accommodate a ramp-up of capacity at the Kelso operation, which now employs about 800.
Foster Farms, among the largest chicken processing companies in the United States, also has processing plants in Fresno and Livingston, Calif., to serve its California markets.
"It's been in the works for the past eight years," said Acosta, referring to his plant's closure. "That was the reasoning behind building that facility up there (in Washington) - to incorporate all the smaller plants Foster Farms had acquired."
Most of the jobs that will be eliminated in Creswell pay wages of $8 to $9 per hour, although some pay as much as $14 per hour, according to John Etten, collective bargaining director with the United Food & Commercial Workers union Local 555. The union represents most of the production-floor workers at Foster Farms' Creswell plant.
"We did negotiate some money for reimbursement for moving expenses ... and also got some severance pay," Etten said. "It's not much, but it gets them by for a little bit. We're doing the best we can."
The severance package amounts to one week of pay for employees who have worked for the company a year or less; two weeks for those with one to 10 years of service; three weeks for those with 10 to 15 years; and four weeks for those with more than 15 years.
Etten said the company is offering travel and some moving expenses for local employees who choose to follow their jobs to Kelso. "They'll not only have a job, but if they need to rent something they're going to get enough money to put a deposit down," he said. "The main thing is, they really are trying to encourage anyone (to relocate). They need workers in Kelso."
Employees were told of the shutdown on Thursday and were meeting with union representatives on Friday to discuss relocation, severance and retraining options, Etten said.
"No one's happy - it's still a shock," he said. "But no one's really surprised."