EAST ALTON — On Nov. 3, 2010, the Olin Corp. announced its Winchester Centerfire Operations and approximately 1,000 jobs would be relocated to Oxford, Miss.
The company’s decision followed two failed ratification votes by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in which employees twice rejected a union proposal that would have allowed Centerfire Operations to remain in East Alton.
“Our focus always has been on ensuring that we continue producing high-quality products for our customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace,” said Joseph D. Rupp, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Olin Corp., in a 2010 press release. “I am disappointed that employees represented by the International Association of Machinists chose to reject a proposal that would have allowed us to remain competitive in East Alton.”
Not only are employees upset about losing their positions in the move, they are disappointed with how they say Olin has treated those who have worked in the Centerfire division for more than two decades.
“Everyone will be gone in March,” Olin Centerfire employee Lee Barham said. “We’re down to eight people on three shifts now. We used to have 150 people working in our division. What’s happening to those people? Nothing. What is Olin doing to help us move forward? Nothing. What does 24 years of hard work, loyalty and being reliable get you? Nothing. We’re not even getting so much as a letter of recommendation from Olin — and we’ve asked for them.”
The employees who are being displaced from the Centerfire division say they feel overwhelmed as the March deadline approaches. Barham said the 2010 contract proposal asked employees to accept a pay freeze for seven years with the promise that the division would not be moved to Oxford. The employees chose to turn down the contract.
“I think a lot of people thought that Olin was bluffing and they wouldn’t move,” Barham said. “Now we’re 50-something-year-olds being thrust back into a young man’s working force with no idea how to fill out an application on the Internet. In my day, you applied for a job by handing someone a paper resumé. Times have changed and us older but loyal workers are going to have a hard time finding a job. Who wants to hire us? Most of us have given Olin more than 20 years of our life.”
While Centerfire employees watch the department they’ve worked with for decades shrink around them, the big concern remains. What now?
“Morale is gone, but we still have pride in our work,” Barham said. “I can say that in East Alton, we are still putting out quality products and will until the door closes on us. We’re hurt, we’re angry, we’re worried. Some people planned to work past retirement; now they’ve had to take early retirement. I’ll admit it; I voted for the contract. Starting over now we may get $15 an hour with a new job. I was willing to take a pay freeze at $24. We went from getting the same money to no money and now the town of East Alton is going to pay for it, too. Taxes for the people and schools are going to change.”
The biggest concern for many of the Olin employees is how to move forward. Barham told AdVantage News he felt it was bad enough to move the company — it’s worse to leave the loyal employees without options or abilities to continue life after Olin.
“A little guidance would help,” Barham said. “We’re not getting job counseling, no training, no instruction or assistance. It’s wrong to thrust us into the working world without even a letter of recommendation. I think after 24 years of showing up and working hard, I at least deserved a letter.”
Moving the Olin Centerfire division to Oxford is being done in an effort to reduce costs.
“Governor Haley Barbour and the state of Mississippi have stepped forward with significant incentives that will allow Winchester to build a state-of-the-art facility in Oxford near our existing facility,” Rupp said in 2010. “This 500,000- square-foot facility will house all of the Centerfire Operations in one building, providing Winchester with significant efficiencies. Combined with lower labor costs, those efficiencies will allow us to deliver quality products and compete effectively in this highly competitive industry.”
AdVantage News reached out to Winchester public affairs and media representative Ted Zimmermann, the human resources department and Olin headquarters for comment concerning the status and future of the displaced employees, but no one could be reached for comment. The move is expected to be complete by the end of March.