Mass layoff looming at former Lorillard plant in Greensboro

by Jeff Sykes

Up to 500 jobs will be cut in late June at the former Lorillard tobacco plant on East Market Street in Greensboro, according to an email from the company’s director of employee and labor relations.Vincent Kubik, director of employee and labor relations for ITG Brands, wrote in an email to union representative Randy Fulk that “the company needs to reduce workforce by over 500 employees because of the loss of over 50% of our volume as the Reciprocal Manufacturing Agreement concludes.”Company and union officials have met over the past four weeks “in an attempt to work out solutions to these challenging circumstances,” Kubik wrote. The negotiations have been to seek a voluntary separation agreement (VSA) for about 45 percent of the current 1100 employees in Greensboro. ITG Brands plans to file a WARN notice with the North Carolina Department of Commerce on Friday that outlines the exact number and specific positions to be cut.Company officials sent a proposal to union members on March 30, which a negotiating committee rejected, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions. Kubik’s email, which is dated April 18, confirms that discussion between the two sides is at an impasse.”On Friday, you told us that the union had reached a ‘last, best, and final position’ rejecting the company package, so I guess our discussions are at an end,” Kubik wrote. “We regret that we were unable to reach an agreement.”Kubik’s email to union representative Fulk was posted throughout the plant this week and drew a sharp rebuke from Fulk.”I have never seen anything more unethical than posting an email to me throughout the plant with my personal email address on it, but I have come to expect this treatment from this company,” Fulk wrote. “This is a blatant attempt to divide the membership of Local 317-T.”Fulk reiterated that the company agreed to a contract extension last year that does not expire until September 2017. He objected to the terms of the proposed separation agreement, saying “the company did not in good faith offer a (separation plan).”Fulk wrote that 505 employees will be laid off and that ITG Brands wants to replace many workers with subcontractors. Employees in maintenance (137 workers), power plant (24), service department (43) and the apprenticeship program (6) are to be eliminated.”When asked what would happen to these workers we were told they would be laid off regardless of plant seniority,” Fulk wrote.Union members submitted an affordable separation proposal, Fulk wrote, “that could have eliminated the need to lay off anyone.””The company admitted they could afford our proposal but chose not to because of greed,” he wrote. “We are not dealing with an honorable company. We are not Lorillard anymore and are dealing with dirty, underhanded greedy crooks and thieves.”The company proposed a separation package for laid off workers and terms for a new collective bargaining agreement for remaining employees.ITG Brand’s proposed voluntary separation agreement included:Two year eligibility toward unreduced retirement benefits.Two weeks pay for each year of service for those retiring or volunteering to leave.Retirement benefits for those eligible to retire.Minimum 8 weeks severance pay and two weeks of pay for each year of service for those laid off.Health insurance for 30 days plus cash payments to cover health care costs during the separation period.Up to $7,500 in combined cash payments.As part of a new agreement, remaining workers would receive:Annual payments of $6,000 for four years “for the necessary contractual changes.”$7,500 in bonus payments.Profit sharing and pension plans.In the new collective bargaining agreement the company seeks flexibility to control costs and “focusing on core activities directly related to the manufacture of cigarettes.” The proposal was distributed March 30.”As a reminder, the new CBA maintains wages, health care benefits, and pension plan benefits for current employees,” Kubik wrote, later adding “the company views this as a win/win for everyone.”