ConAgra Closing Chautauqua County Plants

FREDONIA, NY - Hundreds of people at two plants in the Southern Tier were told Wednesday that they would soon be out of a job. The factories are both owned by the food company: ConAgra.

425 jobs will be cut at Carriage House plants in Fredonia and Dunkirk. This includes management and union employees -- many of whom have worked here most of their lives. The layoffs will happen in phases, beginning in September and ending in February 2015. Eventually ConAgra wants to sell their facilities.

"I will be looking into moving out of here, I lived here my whole life, so this affects me because I've known everybody, it's going to be a life changer," said Andrew Diaz, a fork lift driver with the company, who's worked in Fredonia for three years.

Carriage House makes products that are sold in grocery stores -- from jellies and jam to peanut butter and bottled juices. But, demand has been decreasing.

"It's a business of supply and demand and we've lost so many customers since they [ConAgra] took us over," said Tom Dickerson, the president of the union that represents company employees.

ConAgra bought Carriage House a year ago.

Since then, the company has laid off workers at operations in Silver Creek and Dunkirk. In Fredonia, the closure strips away the village's second-largest employer. SUNY Fredonia is the top employer here with about 1,000 employees.

In a statement released by ConAgra the company says, "we have multiple plants with similar capabilities that have the capacity to make the products from Fredonia. This transition will allow the company to reduce operating costs."

"I am furious at this," said U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) "ConAgra just bought the plant a year ago. and in one year they announce plans to close it? They may say there's less demand for grape jelly, juice and products, but they would have known that a year ago. I want to know if they bought the plant just to close it to reduce competition....that's just one thing I'll be looking into," Schumer said.

"I was on the phone this morning first thing with a Conagra representative in in Washington, and said I'd like to engage and sit down and see how we can reverse or modify or change this decision," Chautauqua County Executive Vincent Horrigan told WGRZ-TV. "Their answer was there's no opportunity do that... It was just, ...that's it the decision is made and you'll just have to live with it."

"It will have an impact on everyone that resides in the village and possibly the county," said village mayor Steve Keefe.

When Carriage House shuts down, Keefe says the village won't collect taxes and water and sewer fees from ConAgra and that this could cause taxes and fees to rise on residents.

Also, a Dunkirk factory that makes plastics for Carriage House called Berry Plastics, will lose work when Carriage House closes.

The union says it will be negotiating with ConAgra for severance packages for employees. Keeke says they have been talking with new companies about opening in the village through the state's StartupNY program, but even if that happens, they would not employ nearly as many people.


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