FULTON, NY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ It’s been a mainstay in Fulton for years, and Sen. Charles Schumer today (Jan. 11) told workers at the Birds Eye plant that he’d do everything he could to make sure it stays that way.
Following last month’s announcement that the Pinnacle Foods Group had completed its purchase of Birds Eye Foods, the senator started working to ensure the plant stayed open and to keep every last job at the Fulton plant.
The $1.3 billion purchase of Birds Eye was announced in November and completed at the end of December.
Pinnacle Foods, owned by private equity funds controlled by The Blackstone Group, manufactures and distributes packaged foods across the country.
The Fulton caning plant has been operational under various owners since 1902. It currently employs about 300 people.
Schumer rallied today with more than a dozen Birds Eye employees, including plant manager Ray Hauser, and representatives of Fulton and county government.
“We’re here today to talk about one thing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ jobs. A Birds Eye company has been producing quality fruits, vegetables, snacks, canned meals and salad dressings since the early 1960s,” Schumer said. “Birds Eye has become synonymous with quality here in Fulton. We have to ensure that the excellent workforce continues to work under the Pinnacle banner.”
The way you lose plants is through complacency, the senator said. That is why now is the time to act, he added.
When Birds Eye, an Upstate concern, was taken over by Pinnacle recently, there was a good deal of concern here in Oswego County and throughout Central New York, he said.
He told them that last week he called Bob Gamgort, head of Pinnacle Foods, and urged him to keep every last job in Fulton.
He also called the CEO of Blackstone Group, Steve Schwartzman, and urged him to also keep every last job at the Fulton plant.
Gamgort told Schumer they are in the process of reviewing the company’s needs, but acknowledged the Fulton facility has been an “engine of economic growth for Birds Eye and the workforce was world-class.”
“For more than 50 years, Birds Eye has been a profitable company and that’s due in large part to the quality workforce we have in Fulton,” Schumer said.
“I informed both Gamgort and Schwartzman that I’d do everything in my power to keep this facility open,” Schumer said this afternoon. “I impressed upon them the severity of the situation.”
He’d keep up the pressure on Pinnacle until all Fulton jobs were safe, he promised.
“I will not rest. I will do everything I can to keep these 300 jobs here,” he vowed. “We have had enough in terms of plants closing, whether it’s Miller or Nestle or anybody else. This is one of the mainstays and it has to stay open.”
“The senator is right, we’ve been hit hard with Nestles closing. I was the last person out of Nestles in 2003,” Fulton Mayor Ron Woodward said. “When Nestles left, we lost $20-some odd million just in payroll. That has a huge affect on our community. I really appreciate the senator coming to town to help fight for Birds Eye.
The time may also be right to expand the Fulton site, Schumer said.
“For over 50 years Fulton and Birds Eye have had a mutually beneficial relationship,” the senator said. “Today, we’re at a crossroads where we have a golden opportunity to preserve and even build on this legacy. I stressed to the new owners of Birds Eye that keeping and expanding the facility they have just purchased allows them to build on a world-class operation and would clearly benefit them and Central New York for many years to come.”
Since the purchase, there has been uncertainty about the future of the plant.
There has been no indication one way or the other what Pinnacle’s plans might be, according to Eduardo Jofre, business representative for Local 1822 of Workers United at the Fulton plant.
“These are difficult (economic) times,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose any more jobs in this area.”
The senator agreed.
“It’s really important to keep our jobs here,” he said. “If Pinnacle fails t keep the jobs here, it will not only negatively impact the 300 employees but many others as well including the farmers who grow the produce that is processed at this plant and the many, many other companies that supply things here. It’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of other jobs in Oswego County and Central New York. In a weak economy it is even more important to be on the look out and do everything that we can to keep jobs, which I think is issue number one.”
The two CEOs listened to him, Schumer said, calling the tone of the conversations “positive.”
“Both gave me real hope. They were also aware this was a very productive and profitable plant,” he said. “There were no promises. But, the tone that hey had, gave me some optimism that they understand the value of this plant.”
However, he cautioned, Pinnacle also has “productive” and “profitable” plants of its own that they are also consider what to do with in the wake of the Birds Eye deal.