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    Friday, Dec. 22, 2000  


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Lowe shuts down:
319 get notice of 'permanent layoffs'


By Matt Decker
The Daily Record

Scott Stroup was preparing to leave his Phillipsburg home at about 1 p.m. Wednesday when a Federal Express truck pulled into hiswe dveway, and he was handed a letter from Outboard Marine Corp., the parent company of Lowe Aluminum Boats.

Stroup had only worked at the Lowe plant in Lebanon for three weeks before being laid off last Friday. The letter informed him that his job, as well as the 319 other jobs at the factory, were gone.

“I was planning to go back ... I really liked working there,” Stroup said. “I guess those plans fell through.”

The letter, signed by OMC Vice President of Human Resources Jim Rusk, stated that the permanent layoff was effective immediately for all employees who were not already affected by the company’s two rounds of previous layoffs on Dec. 1 and Dec. 15.

The letter stated: “During the past few months, the operating performance of Outboard Marine Corp. has bee disappointing and our efforts to secure additional finances were unsuccessful. As a result, we must shut down our operations indefinitely and, regrettably, let go of our valued employees.

“The last day of employment for those employees not previously impacted will be December 21, 2000. …By Dec. 29, 2000, you will receive a final paycheck for all earned but unpaid wages, if any.”

Some employees were given the letter as they picked up their paychecks Thursday. Others found the letter as they arrived home.

The announcement shocked and angered many.

“I will never work for them again,” Johnny Gormley, who had worked at the plant for five years, wrote in an e-mail sent to The Daily Record Thursday night.

Gormley said he found his letter stuck in his front door Thursday evening. He said the manner in which employees were informed, as well as the timing of the announcement four days before Christmas, was “a slap in the face.”

“When people give their time and effort to help a company grow and be prosperous, they deserve more than just a letter in the mail,” Gormley said. “I feel they should have called us all in a meeting and told us face to face. …Poor management relations is what it is. I have lost all my faith in (the company).”

Lowe Aluminum Boats President and CEO Les Crawford declined to comment on the record when asked about the layoffs Thursday, referring all questions to OMC spokesman Gary Beckett. Repeated calls to Beckett’s office Thursday and Friday morning were not returned by press time.

With the permanent layoffs, the future of Lowe Aluminum Boats remains in doubt. A person who answered the phone for Crawford’s office Thursday denied that the plant would close its doors for good.

“Everything’s just got to get shaken out,” the person, who would not give a name, said. “There will be more clarification over the next couple of days.”

Employees may have to wait several weeks before receiving additional information about their health-insurance and retirement accounts. The letter stated that employees will receive additional notices “within the next two months.”

Stroup, who said he already had gone back to his old job at another boat-manufacturing plant, was concerned about many of his former co-workers, many of whom had worked at the Lowe plant for a decade or more. In 1994, the company claimed that more than 150 employees had “10 to 20 years of seniority.”

“I know a lot of people out there where the husband and wife both worked there,” Stroup said. “I know this has hurt a lot of people.”

Gormley likened the employees to a large, extended family.

“We worked at OMC, not so much for the money, because other places paid better, but because we liked our jobs and the at-home atmosphere,” Gormely said.

Lowe Aluminum Boats was founded in 1971 as Lowe Industries by Lebanon businessman Carl Lowe and his wife, Dianna Lowe, whose father opened the first aluminum-boat manufacturing operation in Lebanon in 1960. The Lowes sold their company to OMC in 1986.

The company apparently has steadily reduced its work force over the past few years. In 1995, OMC employed up to 520 persons in Lebanon. That number fell to 385 by 1998, a year after billionaire George Soros purchased the OMC corporation and took it private in 1997.

Just four days ago, OMC announced that it was expanding its annual December shutdown from its usual one-week period to four weeks, due to sagging boat sales.

Earlier this month, OMC permanently laid off about 1,000 employees, about 13 percent of its total work force of 7,200 in North America.