Workers at Dunkirk, Fredonia plants rally for their livelihoods

FREDONIA, N.Y. (WIVB) – More than 400 workers from two food processing plants in Dunkirk and Fredonia, who are facing the loss of their livelihoods after ConAgra Foods announced plans to shut down both facilities, held a rally Thursday.

They said their goal was to send a message to ConAgra about what’s at stake, and let the corporation know that they have an entire community behind them in support.

ConAgra Foods is going to start laying them off in October, leading up to full closure of both plants by May 2015.

Local 266 union President Tm Dickerson said employees want three very specific things from ConAgra: “To maintain some type of operation here, be it warehouse or some type of production. We’re asking for a decent severance package for the 450 people that’ve given their lives to this facility, and also to sell the building with no restrictions.”

No restrictions means ConAgra should not try to prevent another food processing company – perhaps one of its direct competitors – from buying the facilities.

ConAgra is one of the largest employers in Chautauqua County. It’s expected the loss of over 400 jobs will have a catastrophic impact on the local economy.

“It has a major impact. On the village, on the workforce, on the local farmers. And it’s… kind of a tumbling down economic hit on us all,” said Village of Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe.

Governor Andrew Cuomo sent a representative from Empire State Development Corporation to Thursday’s rally. Sam Hoyt told the crowd assembled that the Cuomo administration will spend $50,000 to bring in a national consultant to help re-purpose the facilities.

Hoyt said the nation consultant would “do a complete, thorough analysis of the facilities that exist here today. To take that information, and develop a strategy to market these facilities across this country, so that we can quickly identify a new buyer or a new long-term tenant, so that all of you can ultimately get back to work quickly.”

ConAgra said the layoffs will come in phases, and all employees will have 90 days’ prior notice.

The company sent News 4 the following statement Thursday: “We understand the impact that transitions such as this have on employees and the community and we are absolutely committed to treating people with fairness and respect. We discussed the decision with people very early in the process so they could understand the situation and know what to expect in the months to come. We will continue to provide updates and work together with employees to make the transition as smooth as possible.”

“They say they’re a company that cares, so we’ll find out,” Dickerson said. He added that the union is scheduled to negotiate severance packages with ConAgra in November.

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