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Swift to consolidate two shifts
Sharon Dunn, (Bio)
February 16, 2006

Swift & Co. officials are expected to announce today they will consolidate both shifts into one at the Greeley meatpacking plant, thus potentially laying off up to 400 employees beginning in April.

Dave Minshall, spokesman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local No. 7, the union that represents employees, confirmed employee reports of the news. Officials broke the news to workers at the plant Wednesday afternoon; employees reported that company officials will make it public today.

The news has put employees on the bottom end of a yearlong teeter-totter. About this time last year, the company announced an 800-employee layoff to deal with decreasing demand in the industry and to create a new division of further processed meat.

The change was to put the company into more of a food-production phase, which was expected to help it diversify and help increase earnings in a market shaken by a long-term ban on beef to many Asian markets because of fears of mad-cow disease seeping into supply.

Within four months, the company had rehired half of its lost employees in the face of mounting sales of its new second-shift production. Employee union officials said in December that all employees that had been laid off and waiting to be called back to the plant had been called.

Minshall said employees were told the move was because both shifts had not been running at full capacity. He added that employees were told Swift would bring the first shift to full capacity by consolidating the two, but it is not yet known if Swift intends to combine slaughter and further meat cutting into the same time slot.

"There's gonna be some jobs lost, but we don't know how many," Minshall said. "They do. This is a tough day for workers and a tough day for the community. When there are layoffs, it hurts everybody."

Some employee reports said there could be as many as 400 employees laid off, but Minshall could not confirm that. Overall, Minshall said the company has about 1,400 employees.

In the past year, Swift has made a number of moves to deal with the continued beef ban in Asia as well as decreasing earnings. In March, Swift announced it would cut production at its Grand Island, Neb., plant by 20 percent, or a little more than 1,000 head of cattle per day. The company also closed a facility in Idaho.

In May, however, the company opened a $6.6 million research and development facility next to its headquarters in Promontory.

In August 2005, considered the end of the company's first fiscal quarter of 2006, net sales dropped 4.2 percent; second-quarter sales, which ended in late November and were reported last month, dropped another 5.2 percent. Sales for 2005 had increased 2 percent from the previous year.

The most recent news also follows a company shakeup that began with former CEO John Simons being ousted last spring and vice president Danny Herron announcing in November 2005 that he will leave Swift this year.

Swift officials could not be reached Wednesday evening for comment.

Tribune reporter Roxye Arellano contributed to this report.