Workers in Springfield May Buy Idle Factory

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(Host) Idle workers met in Springfield Thursday in an effort to revive the area’s machine tool industry. The industry has been in decline for years. Recently two long time machine tool plants closed. Now the former employees looking into buying the businesses.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) A few weeks ago, many in the crowd of more than 200 might have had hard time imagining they’d be sitting in an elementary school auditorium in the middle of a workday. On February 13, about one hundred workers at the Fellows and Bryant Grinder companies were abruptly sent home and the plants were closed. This month the Goldman Industrial Group, which owns the two companies, filed for bankruptcy. Only two years ago, the companies employed nearly 600 Springfield area workers. Many came to yesterday’s meeting to hear what it would take to reopen the facilities under employee ownership.

(Sound from meeting) "It seems to me it’s our goal to try and get Bryant’s and Fellow’s back up and running in Springfield, Vermont…."

(Zind) Union leaders and a representative of a Boston based non- profit laid out how workers could go about reopening the plants, using bank loans and private financial backing. A few of the workers asked questions. Most just listened. John Claflin worked for Bryant Grinder for 23 years. Claflin says there’s a lot of support for a worker buyout of the companies. He says there’s a good market for the machine parts turned out at the facilities. Claflin blamed the companies’ misfortunes on bad management. He says workers can’t find manufacturing jobs anymore.

(Claflin) "People been all over 50 miles in any direction and there’s nothing there right now."

(Zind) Don Jamison of the Vermont Employee Ownership Center in Burlington says there are already a number of employee owned businesses in Vermont, including King Arthur Flour, Gardeners’ Supply and Carris Reels in Rutland. But Jamison says the workers will have to move quickly to line up financing to buy the plants from the bankrupt company.

(Jamison) "In this situation, it sounds like there are going to be other offers, probably from competitors, possibly from investors. So that’s going to be the challenge, I think. The employees would be competing with people who probably have a lot more resources behind them."

(Zind) Jamison says he’s optimistic a buyout can happen if employees and former plant managers can work together to line up financing. Paul Spicer is on the executive board of the local United Electrical Workers union. Spicer says workers aren’t simply interested in getting their jobs back. They want to keep the machine tool industry in Springfield for the next generation of workers.

(Spicer) "We would like to open the business, get it so it’s active so we could build the community for the future."

(Zind) Union representatives say based on the turnout and response at yesterday’s meeting, they plan to let the bankruptcy court know the employees are interested in becoming the new owners of the Bryant Grinder and Fellows plants.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Springfield.

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