The Stanley Works' plans to eliminate 2,000 jobs companywide is yet another sign of more bad times to come for Connecticut, as the New Britain-based maker of tools and building security systems joins the wave of mass layoffs being announced nationwide.
But for the union workers at the company's tape measure plant off Myrtle Street in New Britain, the bad times arrived years ago. Even as the news unfurled Thursday of the company's plans to cut 10 percent of its global workforce and close three of its 45 factories, workers trudging to the plant in the rain said it's all just more of the same.
"It's no shock. Now, it's just routine, just something that happens almost every year," one machine operator said by cellphone as she worked an evening shift Thursday at the plant.
Beyond the walls of the Stanley plant, this year is wrapping up to be anything but routine. The recession claimed 533,000 U.S. jobs in November, and the Labor Department reported Thursday that 573,000 initial applications for unemployment benefits were filed last week — the most new jobless claims filed in a single week since 1982 and nearly 50,000 more than economists were expecting.Stanley didn't say whether and by how much the impending job cuts would affect its 1,300 employees in Connecticut — where Stanley has its world headquarters, the old plant in New Britain, and an electronic door facility in Farmington, among other operations. A spokesman said the majority of the job cuts will come this month.
The company, known as the nation's largest toolmaker, has cut at least 1,000 union jobs in Connecticut since 1996. John M. Trani, the CEO for seven years until 2003, restructured what he and others called a bloated company, slashing so many jobs that one longtime worker Thursday recalled him as "the cutter."
Those who've survived the cuts over the years at the New Britain factory work in a modern plant surrounded by graffiti-covered structures spotted with shattered windows. Across from one of these abandoned mills, sits a bar that filled up so quickly with workers in Stanley's heyday that "you couldn't even move in the place," bartender Jeff Weber said.
Several layoffs and factory closures later, one worker shrugged Thursday as he spoke of the looming plant closures and workforce reductions.
"I've lasted a few years and have had some close calls," the 34-year Stanley veteran said.
So hopefully, he said, he'll survive another layoff. With the economy only getting worse, "this is not the time to retire," he said.
One worker near retirement after 38 years on the job said he's confident.
"Thirty-eight years ago, they said this whole place was going to shut down," he said. "Well, here we are 38 years later."
Workers may see the cuts as routine, but economists said their situation could be much worse this time around.
"They survived the Grim Reaper all these years," Nicholas S. Perna, economic adviser for Webster Bank said. But now, he said, many of Stanley's workers will be thrust into a job market with little demand for their expertise.
"There are better times and worse times to get laid off, and this is probably one of the worst times," he said. "Sadly, these things are to be expected, given that we're in the grips of a fairly severe recession. We've been getting announcements like this right along and we're going to get more of them."
Stanley in recent years has lowered its dependence on hand tools, boosting its broad-based security business. Still, the construction and consumer tools division remains the company's largest, and Stanley sold 9 percent fewer of those tools in the three months ending Sept. 30, compared with the same period last year.
And these three months have been even worse. In a written statement Thursday, Stanley said it "has experienced rapidly deteriorating business conditions" as a result of a "severe weakness in the global economy."
"It's a two-pronged effect of the downturn in housing and the recession taking hold," said Don Klepper-Smith, chairman of the governor's economic advisory board. "It's clear that housing has seen a step-down process, which means less demand for those sorts of products."
Stanley has plenty of company among old-line, blue-chip U.S. stalwarts cutting payrolls. On Thursday, Bank of America Corp., which has bought Merrill Lynch, announced that it plans to eliminate 30,000 to 35,000 jobs over the next three years, a cut that will likely affect the combined companies' 5,100 employees in Connecticut.
In recent days, Pratt & Whitney laid off 280 salaried workers in Connecticut and AT&T also announced that it plans to eliminate 12,000 workers nationwide, nearly 400 in Connecticut, an employees' union said — on top of 60 jobs AT&T already planned to relocate to Michigan.
Pratt's parent, United Technologies Corp., told Wall Street analysts Thursday it has cut 5,500 jobs worldwide this year, about 2 percent of the total. The company didn't say how many of its 26,000 employees in Connecticut were affected — or will be affected as its restructuring continues in 2009.
Some workers at Stanley, members of the Machinists union, said they were told that layoff notices could be issued as early as today.
The layoffs are reportedly based on seniority, but one worker, who said she has been on furlough since Oct. 31, said everyone is scared for their jobs.
"If I lose this, I guess I'll just have to look for another job," said the woman, who has worked for the company for 23 years, "but I just don't know what's out there."
Though layoffs have become routine at the company, one machine operator said the worsening economy has more workers worried about their prospects of getting hired elsewhere. Some machinists, she said, were so consumed by Thursday's announcement that operations slowed at the New Britain plant as workers huddled in groups to swap information.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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