Procter & Gamble site closing

January 14, 1994|By Michael Dresser and Holly Selby | Michael Dresser and Holly Selby,Staff Writers

Procter & Gamble Co., a stalwart of Baltimore's industrial waterfront for six decades, said yesterday that it will close its Locust Point manufacturing plant and eliminate 215 jobs.

Operations at the sprawling brick complex, which opened in 1930 as the nation was sinking into the Great Depression, will be phased out over the next 12 to 18 months, said industrial relations spokeswoman Evelyn Davis.

The plant produces Ivory, Dawn and Joy dish-washing liquids, as well as refined glycerin for industrial use.

In the past it made many other P&G products, including bar soap and laundry detergent.

The job cuts will not affect P&G's cosmetics and fragrances division in Hunt Valley, which employs about 1,700 workers. Operations at the former Noxell site have been growing.

The shutdown came as part of a $1.5 billion consolidation and restructuring of the Cincinnati-based company's manufacturing operations, which had been announced last July.

P&G's chairman and chief executive, Edwin L. Artzt, said the company's business is healthy and production of the items made at the four closing plants will expand at other U.S. sites.

"We must reduce our total number of producing sites to remain competitive in the years ahead and deliver greater consumer value," he said.

Employment at the Locust Point plant has dwindled since its heyday in the early 1970s, when it provided jobs for 550 to 600 workers, according to Ms. Davis.

In recent years, the plant became a landmark for boaters in the harbor after it erected a large sign proclaiming its presence.

The factory underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in 1989, raising hopes that P&G would be there for a long time to come.

In the neighborhood pubs that dot the street corners surrounding the South Baltimore plant, employees gathered last night to buy each other rounds, toasting long years of work together and lamenting the impending loss.

"I thought that I would have a lifetime job and I'd retire from here," said Jack Sidor, a warehouse technician who grew up about a block from the plant and who has worked there for 24 years. "We all grew up here and we always thought we'd retire here."

For months, Procter & Gamble employees had been hearing rumors about a possible shutdown, and a few said they felt oddly relieved at hearing the news.

"The thing is, we've been living with this threat for a long time, and in a way it's a weight off," said Stewart Godlewski, a customer service analyst who has worked for P&G for 22 years. "Now we can plan what to do in the future."

Others, who have been at the plant long enough to expect retirement packages, vacillated between toasting a happy future and expressing concern for the employees with less seniority.

"We are partying because we all grew up together and now we are all going to retire together," said a man who has worked at Proctor & Gamble for 33 years in production.

The Baltimore plant closing was among four announced by P&G yesterday.

The company also said it would shut down production lines at an additional six factories in the United States and Canada. P&G took a charge against earnings to cover restructuring costs last summer.

The other P&G plant closings announced yesterday are in Quincy, Mass.; South San Francisco, Calif., and Pointe Claire, Quebec.

A total of about 1,800 employees at the four plants are affected by the closings.

The company plans to cut an equal number of additional jobs before the restructuring is complete.

Ms. Davis said the job cuts would be a mix of early retirements, severance agreements and transfers.

The company said it would provide career counseling, retraining and financial assistance for displaced workers.

Kerry Desberg, a company spokeswoman at P&G's Hunt Valley facility, said that if jobs open up at that location, employees from the Baltimore plant would be considered for those positions.

Ms. Davis did not say why the Baltimore plant was chosen for closing, only that it was done after an internal study of P&G's production and supply needs for beyond 2000.

She said that she did not know what the company would do with the 26-acre site after it closes in 1995.

As a mostly male group of employees huddled around the rail at Barbara Ann's bar on Decatur Street, several longtime employees said they couldn't imagine life after the plant moves away.

"It's just been here so long, forever," Mr. Sidor said. "I have no idea what I'm going to do."

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