Photo by Diane Cox
The Winchester Ammunition Division entrance at the Olin Corporation in East Alton will see fewer employees pass through the gates after 35 more employees will be laid off on Feb. 1.
EAST ALTON — Imminent layoffs have Winchester Ammunition Division employees worried about their future.
Olin announced at the beginning of January that approximately 35 workers from the division will be released from employment Feb. 1.
“What is happening in our region?” former Olin employee Lee Barham asked. “This whole situation with Olin and Winchester is like a bad divorce that you don’t want. So many of the employees at Olin have been with the corporation for more than 20 years. This generation is not ready or prepared to re-enter the work force and compete with younger college graduates. We aren’t even able to get letters of recommendation from our union when we lose our jobs. We are supposed to be Obama’s home state and look at the job loss this state is experiencing.”
Many employees are left wondering what’s next for them in their careers, with many beyond the age to start over and too young to retire.
“Most people who are getting laid off are between 55 and 62 years old,” Winchester Ammunition employee David Pinkston said. “When we were told we were losing our jobs, some people were given a couple options. They could retire early with a 20 percent pension cut with a severance package or take the layoff with the hope that you might get called back. I took the layoff because I’m too young to retire. My pension would have been less than $1,000 and the severance would have only been about $12,000, and that’s for 25 years with the company.”
Pinkston said he was laid off from the position as a bullet adjuster but was called back to work on Jan. 25 to work in the primer department. He returned to the midnight shift that evening. He said he never thought he’d get called back to work at all, but he knows possible layoffs are always looming.
The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act released layoff numbers in December 2015, with 59 Winchester layoffs, and again on Jan. 1 with an additional 83 estimated layoffs. The Feb. 1 layoffs add another 35, for a total of 177 job layoffs within three months.
The WARN Act applies if one-third of the workforce or more than 500 employees could be affected by layoffs or job cuts. Established in 1989, WARN offers protection to workers, their families and communities by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs. The notice must be provided to affected workers or their representatives, such as a labor union; and to state and local governments.
Barham said the local Machinist 660 union collects nearly $80 per month from employees and does nothing for them when they need it most.
“When I found out that I was losing my job, the first thing I could think of is how am I going to pay my bills,” Barham said. “After more than 20 years of working for Olin I received no job counseling, no referrals and no answers. I went to the unemployment office and you can only receive unemployment benefits for six months with no extension.”
“I was told to sit at a computer and fill out online forms and then I had to take a test that I wasn’t prepared for. I’ve been out of the job-hunting market for a quarter of a century. There are some people that don’t have the computer or technology skills needed today to start over.”
The Olin Corp. and Winchester Ammunition Division are not just important to the employees. The layoffs affect the village of East Alton.
“It’s important to the village of East Alton for Olin to do well,” East Alton Mayor Joe Silkwood said. “At this point, all I can do is hope the layoffs are temporary and just a rough patch for the corporation. After the Rimfire division moved to Mississippi, I was told no other divisions would be moved. It’s hard to find anything positive when people lose their jobs. We have local agencies that can provide assistance, retrain or employ.
“We obviously want Olin and their people to do well. The Olin Corporation provides a lot of tax dollars to the village of East Alton. There is not a lot of communication between Olin and I, but my door is always open to them.”
Winchester Ammunition experienced a slight earnings increase in the second quarter of 2015, with earnings of $33.9 million compared to $33.1 million in the second quarter of 2014. The increase in segment earnings reflects the impact of lower commodity and material costs and lower manufacturing and other costs, partially offset by a less-favorable product mix.
The third quarter proved to be a loss for Winchester Ammunition, with segment earnings worth $30.1 million compared to $38.5 million in the third quarter of 2014. The decrease in segment earnings reflects the impact of lower commercial and law enforcement shipments partially offset by lower commodity and material costs.
Several requests for comment from the Olin Corp. by AdVantage News were unanswered as of press time Wednesday.
Winchester Ammunition employees affected by the recent layoffs are advised to file their unemployment claims at www.ides.illinois.gov or at the Illinois Department of Employment Security office at 612 W. St. Louis Ave., East Alton. Those affected by layoffs also are advised to look for job options and opportunities through the Manpower website at www.manpower.com.
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