Bobcat announces permanent layoffs in southeastern North Dakota

The Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — Bobcat Co. is planning to cut about 25 jobs at its machinery plant here and up to 130 at its plant in Gwinner, in southeastern North Dakota, according to union officials.

Officials at Bobcat’s parent company, Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd., declined to give details of the layoffs on Sunday, but said the cuts would come first from voluntary buyout packages to employees.
“They wouldn’t give us an ironclad number,” said Randall Edison, treasurer of United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner.

“They gave us some numbers but they weren’t sure,” said Steve Chmielewski, president of the United Steelworkers Local 566 in Bismarck. “The worst-case scenario — what they told us — was 25, but that’s been changing by the minute.”

Union officials said they were told the layoffs would happen by early February.

In a brief statement Sunday, the company said it notified workers at both plants on Jan. 4, “requesting applications for participants in a voluntary reduction program” from its hourly paid workers, regardless of seniority.

Bobcat, based in West Fargo, said it employs approximately 1,070 hourly workers at its Gwinner plant and 765 hourly workers at its Bismarck plant.

“The company made the request in an attempt to align its work force to correspond with lower market demand,” Bobcat’s statement said. “The work force reduction is a difficult but necessary step to ensure the company’s ongoing competitiveness.”

The plants in Bismarck and Gwinner make machinery for light construction. Bobcat, known for its skid-steer loaders, employs more than 2,600 people in North Dakota.

The company has said its revenues dropped by more than 20 percent last year compared to 2005, due to a decline in North American markets and a drop in shipments to distributors.

Union workers at the Bismarck plant agreed to a new four-year contract in October, after a two-week strike in a dispute over wages and health care costs. Union workers in Gwinner approved a new four-year contract last month without a strike.

Edison and Chmielewski said some small-scale layoffs were anticipated.

“Though it didn’t completely blindside us — a reduction of this magnitude did,” Edison said.

Edison said workers 55 or older with 20 years seniority would be offered a severance package equal to 30 weeks of pay if they participate in the reduction program. He said employees with less seniority would be offered severance packages of two weeks to 30 weeks of pay, depending on how long they have been with the company. Employees also would be covered by health insurance for at least several months, he said.

Edison hopes the reductions will come from workers who chose to cash out with the company. If the reduction is not met by volunteers, those with the shortest tenure would lose their jobs first, he said.

“The more people who volunteer — less people will be forced out,” Edison said.

Paring the work force likely will mean less machinery manufactured, Edison said.

“Production will go down accordingly, I’m sure,” Edison said. “It goes hand in hand.”

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