Little more than a week ago, 83 employees at Gate’s temporary facility in Jefferson learned they would shortly lose their jobs, and will likely be required to train their replacements.
On July 9, in a letter from Gates Senior Human Resources Manager Dwayne Howell, employees learned the company is “permanently closing its P2P Hydraulic Tubing Operation…due to capacity reallocation and plant consolidation.” Jobs leaving the Jefferson facility will be shifted to Gate’s operations in Mexico and Missouri.
Sept. 8 is currently scheduled as the plant’s last day of operations, according to the letter.
One Gates employee, speaking on condition of anonymity on July 11, said he and other workers at the plant had been offered a severance package with what he considered a catch - the outgoing workers must train the employees who will be taking their jobs.
“It’s not fair, I mean, it’s really not,” said the Gates employee.
The announcement means Gates employees will be starting a job search in a labor market with an unemployment rate higher than 11 percent, according to the most recent figures released by the N.C. Department of Commerce on June 22.
For that reason, starting at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, July 17, a Rapid Response team will explain transitional services available to Gates workers who will lose their jobs in September. Additional programs will be provided to Gates employees at 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Authorized under the Workforce Investment Act, Rapid Response teams provide information to workers affected by layoffs and plant closures across the state.
Teams bring together a number of organizations including local workforce development boards, employment offices, JobLink Career Centers, community colleges, and economic development and social services, according to the program’s website.
Teams help workers losing their jobs understand what options are available to them, and how to chart their own course forward.
“I’m sorry to say that with all the layoffs we’ve had over the past six or seven years, we’re a pretty well oiled machine,” said Rebecca Greer, Wilkes Community College Director of Human Resource Development. “Many folks in this situation haven’t interviewed in a while, so they need that preparation. We can help them with questions they may have, and how to research and find the answers to other questions.”
Greer said the teams bring together a variety of disciplines that can help Gates employees with everything from resume and cover letters to interview and study skills.
The program can also help Gate’s employees understand job retraining programs and degree options.
“With these rapid response meetings, it’s always so hard,” said Ginger Shaffer, director of Wilkes Community College Workforce Investment Act services. “Over the past five or six years, we’ve had to do too many. We’re going to give them a lot of information on Tuesday, and they’ll likely be overwhelmed. The most important thing is that they know there is help available, and who the point of contact is when they need to ask questions.”
The Work Force Investment Act is a federally funded program that assists individuals that are employed, underemployed, or being displaced from their jobs.
“We provide more intensive services,” said Shaffer. “Enrolling in the Work Force Investment Act program allows our counselors to develop a plan, get a picture of the skills and experiences workers already have, help them look at the overall job market, and what they may need to do next.”
Shaffer said they will also discuss options including the North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Program designed to help NC residents stay in their homes despite a job loss.
“We encourage people to start these application processes early, so they don’t exhaust their savings, which should always be a last resort,” said Shaffer.
Gates does plan to file for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) benefits for its 83 Jefferson employees, according to Shaffer.
“I do understand that Gates has said that they do plan to file the TAA petition,” said Shaffer. “It’s beneficial to the employees to do so, but nobody knows whether it’ll be approved. That has to come from the (United States) Department of Labor.”
TAA benefits, created by the Trade Act of 1974 and amended in 2002, provide funding and services to workers who lose their jobs due to increased foreign imports or, in this case, a shift in production to foreign countries that have signed Free Trade Agreements with the United States.
Gates employees could be eligible for the program since at least a portion of the lost jobs will go to factories in Mexico.
The building Gates is vacating is owned by Ashe County Job Development, Inc., a non-profit organization formed in the late 1990s to handle the donation of this same building from the former Sara Lee (Knit Products) company, said County Manager Pat Mitchell.
ACJD accepted the building, Mitchell said, then sold it to Leviton, who donated it back when they abandoned it.
The ACJD will be marketing this building again, she said.
Gates had used the building since April 30, 2011 after a tornado ripped through the community of Glade Spring, Va., and destroyed Gate’s plant there, and employees from Virginia came to Ashe for temporary work. The plant had manufactured tubing primarily for commercial Freightliner trucks and agricultural purposes.