Birds Eye plant in Fulton to close by December

A photo of the note to employees / photo: Chris McGrath

The Birds Eye plant in Fulton will close its operations by the end of the year, putting nearly 300 people out of work and adding another major business closure in the city.

Thursday morning, Fulton Alderman Dan Knoop first told CNY Central that city officials were notified the Birds Eye plant will close its operations by December. This was confirmed by employees coming out of a company meeting at the Fulton War Memorial.

Workers gathered at the War Memorial around 9:30 this morning, expecting to hear word that the Birds Eye plant in Fulton would shut down. The plant employs 280 people, 250 union and 30 management, and was recently acquired by Pinnacle Foods of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Pinnacle says the plant's operations will move to facilities in Darien, Wisconsin and Waseca, Minnesota.

The decision to close the Fulton, N.Y. facility was made after a thorough analysis of all options. The analysis determined this as the most efficient, sustainable way to operate. We are grateful for the services of our employees in Fulton and are committed to treating them with fairness and respect as we transition the facility this year, said Birds Eye/Pinnacle vice president Daryl Pike in a statement to the media Thursday.

Birds Eye was acquired in December 2009 by Pinnacle. The company closed Birds Eye's corporate headquarters in Rochester last year and moved it to New Jersey.

Eduardo Jofre, business agent for Workers United, represents the employees at Birds Eye. Jofre says the company had its mind made up, and did not listen to what the union had to say. He says the company claims by moving to Wisconsin, they will save more than a million miles annually in transportation. The company says it wants to move its vegetable processing operations "closer to the crop growing region". Jofre says he doesn TMt buy that argument, saying the products would end up being shipped to the East Coast anyway.

Severance packages have yet to be worked out, according to Amy LaBeef, a three-year employee with the plant. She says when she loses her job, she has no idea where she TMll work.

Jofre says the union will be meeting with Pinnacle Foods over the next several weeks to work out compensation packages. He says the shutdown will take place in phases, with the last worker leaving by the end of the year.

Shirley Kimber, an employee, told CNY Central before the meeting started that she expected to lose her job after working at the plant for 12 years. She blames no one, but says it TMs just the state of the economy.

Another employee, who asked not to be identified, says his position at Birds Eye paid $23 an hour, and he has no idea where he will find another job. Prior to working at Birds Eye, he was employed at the former Nestle chocolate factory, which shut down in 2003. That came after the Miller brewery closed in 1994, laying off hundreds.

Alderman Thomas Kenyon tells CNY Central that Pinnacle officials met with city leaders after the plant's sale, and promised expansion of the facility. He says he feels "deceived" by the company.

Thursday afternoon, State Senator Patty Ritchie and Assemblyman Will Barclay released a joint statement expressing dismay at the announcement, but hope that another company will consider the plant for future business.

While Fulton has suffered damaging blows to its manufacturing over the past few decades, we need to keep in mind that the Birds Eye plant offers a lot of advantages to any company smart enough to see the advantages the city offers, said Ritchie in the statement.

Pinnacle says it will offer displaced employees the opportunity to apply for positions at its other locations.

Reporters were not allowed inside the building during the meeting, but we are told that employees were required to sign in as they entered.

Thursday night update from Chris McGrath:

Workers at the Birds Eye plant in Fulton said Thursday night they can see the writing on the wall -- they may not have a job much longer.

It comes after workers came into work this morning and found a note posted on doors and bulletin boards, reading the following:

"A mandatory employee meeting will be held at the Fulton War Memorial on Friday, April 15th, at 9:30am. Doors will open at 9:10am. No production will be run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. All employees must attend the meeting and sign-in to be paid for the day."

Workers told me the mood inside the plant was pretty somber, with employees openly crying and calling loved ones. A plant manager, who declined to go on camera, would only say the meeting is a "communications" meeting, but would not explain what that meant or what would be discussed at the meeting.

Meanwhile, word of the meeting at Birds Eye spread like wildfire through the city. At one local bar, a man showed me a text message from a worker inside the plant, telling him about the meeting and fearing the worst.

Local businesses are also on edge, realizing hundreds of layoffs would have a devastating impact on the local economy.

"It brings me back to the days when Miller first closed -- and that was kind of the beginning of the end for Fulton," said Krystal Hans of the Red Brick Pub. "Fulton Losing all of our big businesses is something that everyone feels in the community."

That sentiment was echoed at Renee's Pizza and Grill just off of route 3 in Fulton -- just down the road from the plant, which stand to lose a lot of business if hundred of workers are out of work.

"We opened in January and since then they have made several orders for delivery on the nightshift -- there have been dayshift people who come in and eat their lunch here," said manager Kelly Earle. "It's going to affect us too, (it's going to affect) everyone."

Stay with CNY Central for the latest details as we continue to follow this developing story.

5:00 p.m. Thursday update:

We've just learned employees at the Birds Eye plant received a notice this afternoon of a required meeting tomorrow morning that could mean layoffs are coming.

Here's what the note says:

"A mandatory employee meeting will be held at the Fulton War Memorial on Friday, April 15th, at 9:30am. Doors will open at 9:10am. No production will be run on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. All employees must attend the meeting and sign-in to be paid for the day."

Chris McGrath is on scene and reports the mood in and around the plant is very somber. He says employees are taking today's news to mean layoffs will be announced.

Stay with CNY Central for more on this developing story.

Original story by Michael Benny:

Concern is growing among workers in Fulton over the future of the Birds Eye plant.

Several workers have called CNY Central to report they fear major layoffs are coming on Friday. Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward says he has not heard anything about cuts to the work force, which he believes stands at just less than 300 people right now.

Woodward says the last contact he had with officials from the company was a few weeks ago when Birds Eye asked to use the Fulton War Memorial for an employee meeting, which is now scheduled for Friday morning.

"It's tough doing business in New York State right now," Woodward told CNY Central.

Fueling the speculation about a possible shake up for the Fulton workforce is the recent lease of an 85,000 square foot facility by the company that owns Birds Eye, Pinnacle Foods in Parsippany, New Jersey. Pinnacle told a news outlet in New Jersey the new space in Parsippany will include executive and administrative offices as well as a commercial test kitchen. It was expected the company would begin to move into its new operation in early summer 2011.

Read more about the company's plan in New Jersey here .

At this point we have not heard back from company officials as we seek more information about the worker meeting set for Friday.

In the spring of 2010, many in Fulton believed they managed to escape what could have been a plant shutdown when Birds Eye was sold to Pinnacle. Read more about that here.

Are you a Birds Eye employee? Do you know something about the company TMs plan? Leave a comment below or call our newsroom at 315-477-4645.