Company lays off hourly working

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 18, 2004

For employees of Linden Lumber Company, Marengo County’s largest employer with 635 workers, some Christmas cheer was dampened when it was announced the plant would close for two weeks during the holidays.

The move comes at the toughest possible time, as workers will spend Christmas and New Year’s Days away from their jobs and income. The shutdown was necessary because of a difficult financial year. Hardest hit was the company’s hardwood flooring business, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the company’s revenue.

As of Sunday, Dec. 19 all manufacturing activities will be suspended until normal operations resume Sunday Jan. 2 of next year.

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Until then, those left without jobs will likely receive compensation from the state. Larry Jowers, Employment Services Supervisor for the Alabama State Employment Agency, said shutdowns are not unusual and help was available.

“They usually do it as a vacation,” Jowers said. “New Era has done the same thing in the past. They give the workers partial unemployment during that time. I am not sure if they will shut it all down or which areas.”

The company says they intend to handle all the electronic filing of unemployment compensation claims for all employees who are on layoff for the two-week period. This should ensure benefits would be paid quickly.

Hugh Overmyer, Chief Operating Officer for Linden Lumber, said the decision to shut down was not an easy one.

“This year (2004) has been the most difficult year in the nearly 40-year history of our company,” Overmyer said. “The decision not to operate for the two week period was a difficult one that we hated to implement. However, our finished goods inventory levels are simply too high and we needed two weeks to give us some relief.”

Overmyer said a series of complications have left him concerned about the coming year as well.

“The unfavorable raw material cost trend has already had an extremely negative impact on our overall manufacturing costs and profitability,” Overmyer said. “We are already aggressively working on ways to reverse this trend because we have no alternative. Our efforts in this area will continue in 2005. With the intense competition we will continue to face we absolutely must reduce our raw material costs.”

Overmyer added the current market had a bleak outlook in the hardwood industry because of a rise in imported goods.

“We are now seeing a flood of imported hardwood flooring coming from China and other companies,” Overmyer said. “This is very concerning to all United States hardwood flooring manufacturers because these foreign companies enjoy labor, employee benefits, raw material, government compliance and other costs of manufacturing hardwood that are less than half our costs.”

Linden Lumber hopes to see an upward trend in 2005. Overmyer felt confident the company could turn things around in the coming year.

“We look forward to making positive inroads in the reduction of our flooring manufacturing costs while increasing selling prices in 2005,” Overmyer said. “Through the leadership of our excellent management team and the hard work and dedication of all our employees, we expect to achieve our 2005 business objectives and look forward to getting our company back on a successful track.”

The temporary shutdown in Linden will not affect the company’s Thomasville plant. Thomasville will continue on its regular schedule during the shutdown. Salaried employees will also continue to work during this period as will a very small number of maintenance and support staff in Linden.