By MALLORY GRUBEN
About 75 workers may have clocked in for the last time July 21 at Oregon’s largest glass bottle recycling plant. Another half dozen will lose their jobs before the end of the year, leaving the facility with a skeleton crew of about 15 people to operate the plant at a greatly reduced capacity.
Owens-Brockway Glass Container Inc. (O-I) announced in June that it was laying off about 70% of the workforce at its Oregon plant, located south of Portland International Airport along Interstate 205. Workers in the facility are represented by United Steelworkers Local 112M and Local 330. Most have been with O-I eight years or longer, said Local 112M President William Hamn.
In a letter notifying local officials about the layoffs, the company cited a slowdown in the local wine market as the reason for the cuts. Hamn said workers in the glass industry suspect that another company with plants in China, South America, and Africa may have flooded the U.S. glass market with imported bottles. The union has filed a petition for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Program offered through the Trade Act. That program offers generous benefits for workers whose jobs were negatively affected by foreign trade. However, it’s unclear if and when the petition will be reviewed because Congress has not renewed the program past its June 30, 2022, end date.
O-I told workers that it expects the layoffs to last at least six months, if not longer. Hamn said the plant will likely lose decades of talent with the layoff, even if production ramps up and the plant can recall some workers. If they’ve found a new job elsewhere, it’ll be hard to entice veteran staff to return.
“None of us can sit around for six months and not work. We’ve got bills to pay,” Hamn said. “I feel positive about us reopening. I just feel negative about getting our guys back.”
Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, the company was supposed to give workers 60 days notice before major layoffs. Because managers notified employees about the layoffs on June 12 and 13 — about four weeks before they lost their jobs — O-I is paying out full wages and benefits through the 60-day period. That means workers will be paid through Aug. 12.
On top of that, the union negotiated an extension of healthcare coverage through February 2024 and a retirement buyout that provides $20,000 to eligible workers who retire early as a consequence of the layoffs. Workers transferring to other O-I facilities will receive $5,000 to help with relocation expenses, and another $5,000 if they move back to the Portland plant on recall.
Labor’s Community Service Agency (LCSA) led Rapid Response, a state program that helps workers affected by layoffs or closures return to work as quickly as possible. That included teaching workers how to file for unemployment insurance, write resumes, and access other assistance through state programs and LCSA’s Helping Hands. LCSA also hosted a job fair at the plant. Hamn, who’s worked at O-I for more than a decade repairing the robotic parts, said the event came as a relief because it showed there are other employment options ahead.
“We’ve all been working for 10-plus years, so what do we know about unemployment? What do we know about resumes?” Hamn said. “Having Rapid Response was amazing. … I might find a new career. This may be a new beginning for me.”