Fuel pump maker to close plant

300 jobs being lost as Wayne shutters Salisbury facility

Shore impact feared

Manufacturing will be moved to Texas site

March 02, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The Wayne Division of Dresser Equipment Group will shut down its gas station fuel pump manufacturing plant in Salisbury and lay off about 300 workers by the end of April, according to company and union officials.

Dresser, a division of oil services giant Halliburton Co., first announced plans to close the plant in October, after the plant's union workers had been on strike since July.

County and state economic officials said yesterday that the plant closing will have a significant impact on the lower Eastern Shore, where the Wayne Division is a top employer, union-scale jobs are scarce and the unemployment rate runs higher than the state and national averages.

Zelma W. Branch, a Halliburton spokeswoman, said Dresser is closing the plant because of its "need to operate more efficiently due to the changing business climate," despite efforts from county and state officials who tried to keep the plant open.

Manufacturing of the fuel pumps will be moved to Austin, Texas, where the Wayne Division is based, Branch said.

Workers at the plant - 256 union and roughly 45 nonunion employees - received a letter from Dresser on Feb. 14, giving them a 60-day notice of the plant's closing, according to Jack Hughes, president of United Auto Workers Local 354.

Branch said the union contract gives employees, based on seniority and ability, the option of working at the nonunion Austin plant.

But Hughes, a 21-year employee at the Wayne plant, said that Dresser's proposal for union employees who work at the Texas location requires they pay more for benefits and accept deeper cuts in early retirement pay.

"I don't know of any [union] employees who have taken the offer," Hughes said.

Branch said negotiations are under way to address what union workers are entitled to when the plant closes. She said Dresser is putting together severance packages for nonunion administrative and technical employees who will not move to Austin or will stay on in an administrative capacity in Salisbury, Branch said.

The Halliburton subsidiary is being sold to a group of investors - including top Dresser managers - for about $1.55 billion. A closing date on the deal has not been set.

Hughes, the Local 354 president, said that employees received a letter from Dresser before the strike ended in November that announced the company's intention to shut the plant. Dresser, however, did not set a closing date for the plant at the time.

Despite that warning, news of the closing came as a shock to plant workers, Hughes said.

David J. Ryan, executive director of Salisbury-Wicomico County Economic Development Inc., the county's nonprofit development arm, said county and state officials tried to play a role in keeping the plant open.

"We contacted Dresser's management team in Austin and we contacted the union representatives and asked fairly frequently what role either local, state or federal agencies could play in helping the two sides come together," Ryan said.

"Ultimately, our hope was for the plant to continue its operations, but neither side had a suggestion or an idea of what role we could play," he added. "It seemed to be a very clear labor and management issue."

Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, said the state agency is looking for a new company to take over the Salisbury site. Dresser, however, does not have any immediate plans to sell the plant, Branch said.

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