Latest round of layoffs at N.S. poultry processor affects 110 employees

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NEW MINAS, N.S. ACA Co-operative announced Tuesday what many employees have feared for months.
The farm-owned poultry processor in Nova Scotia is reducing its workforce again, this time laying off 110 employees, it said in a news release.
The layoffs, which will be effective in mid-December, include 96 union employees and 14 non-union supervisors and managers.
"This year has been a very difficult one for the staff and their families," said Ian Blenkharn, ACA Co-operative's chief executive officer.
"After the closure of our Eastern Protein Foods plant in Kentville and layoffs in our primary chicken processing plant in New Minas, our financial position improved considerably.
"However, the financial results of our primary chicken processing plant are still not where they need to be to get it through the long term."
Blenkharn said the layoffs are "painful but necessary" to make the plant sustainable, protect remaining jobs and compete in today's market.
ACA's primary processing plant in New Minas lost $6 million in 2008. Restructuring and the cutting of 300 jobs earlier this year helped its financial position, the release said.
But it added that a new business model focused on making the plant sustainable has made this round of layoffs necessary.
"We regret having to make this announcement now, but difficult decisions are necessary to ensure all of ACA's operations are profitable," said Blenkharn.
"We are going to become a stronger company that is better positioned for long-term success. ACA remains committed to Nova Scotia's poultry industry."
Dean Tupper, president of Local 2216 of the Canadian Auto Workers, said "it's very bad news." The local represents 96 of the workers who will lose their jobs.
He said 89 of the laid-off employees are production workers and seven are sanitation employees.
The mood at the plant is sombre, said Tupper, who has worked with ACA for 26 years.
"It's not very good right now."
He said the union is helping workers figure out who is qualified for employment insurance and severance pay.
"This comes at Christmas, when a lot of people's first week with no pay will be Christmas week."
The most senior person to be laid off in this round has been with the company for 16 years, said Tupper, who works on the kill line at the poultry processing plant.
"The problem is, we're now left with 50 of our most senior employees to do what are basically entry-level jobs," Tupper said.
Of the 200 employees remaining, 57 are unionized.
Tupper said he will meet with employment insurance officials today to see if they will waive the eligibility period for a mass layoff like this.
Kentville Mayor Dave Corkum was in meetings in Halifax all day Tuesday and hadn't heard the news when reached late in the afternoon.
"It is another hit to our community," Corkum said.
"Certainly, your heart has to go out to these people, just right at Christmastime to lose those positions, which are certainly good-paying jobs in the (Annapolis) Valley."
He said the loss will trickle down to other businesses.
"It will certainly have a negative effect. It even makes people who do have jobs quite uncertain, and (they) decide maybe they better not shop or buy."
The company cut more than 300 jobs last January when it laid off 75 union employees and 40 non-union workers at ACA and 187 unionized employees when it closed its Eastern Protein Foods plant.
With the recent round of cuts, the company has laid off 410 workers in the past year.
The company is owned by 63 poultry producers in Nova Scotia. It had a $3.5-million working capital loan from the former Tory government in 2008.

Organizations: ACA, N.S. ACA Co, Canadian Auto Workers

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Kentville, New Minas Halifax Annapolis

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