By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item
HUMMELS WHARF - About 150 National Beef employees in Snyder County are losing their jobs as the company struggles with the loss of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., a key customer.
“They gathered everyone in the lunch room Monday and told us,” said a 10-year employee who is among the hundreds facing layoffs. “A lot of people were visibly upset and crying. No one likes losing their jobs.”
Seventy workers will be out of a job as of Friday and the rest will be laid off by April 13 unless National Beef is able to secure more business, the employee said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
In all, 433 jobs will be cut at the company’s Hummels Wharf and Moultrie, Ga., plants by April 1, according to a company statement.
There are no plans to close either plant, but both will operate at reduced levels, the company said in a statement.
The layoffs will affect about half of the workers employed at the Hummels Wharf plant, the employee said.
“That’s not good,” said Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz, who said he was surprised by the news.
Keith Welty, spokesman for the Kansas City, Mo.-based company, said the layoffs are occurring following the loss of Wal-Mart’s business.
Wal-Mart notified National Beef in October that it would no longer be purchasing its case-ready beef.
“National Beef is working to bring additional business to each facility and to preserve the jobs, skills and experience of the National Beef team at each location,” the company said.
The fourth largest beef packer in the U.S., National Beef also operates facilities in Dodge City, Liberal and Kansas City, Kan.; St. Joseph, Mo.; and Brawley, Calif.
The Hummels Wharf employee said workers understood the loss of Wal-Mart could mean layoffs, but he was “pretty rocked” by the news that he’ll be out of work by mid-April. He said he’s certain his employer will do its best trying to drum up new business.
“This didn’t happen because of a lack of effort,” he said. “We went through a slowdown of six to seven months in 2007 and then the company secured more customers.”
Kantz said the layoffs could have a chilling effect on families.
“And it definitely has a regional impact,” he said.
The news from National Beef is a letdown following last week’s announcement that ACF Industries in Milton may hire up to 250 employees to build railcars, propane tanks and other specialty products.
Just three years ago, National Beef’s Hummels Wharf plant was recognized as the Business of the Year for the more than $10,000 in donations provided by the company and its employees to the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way’s 2009 fundraising campaign.