BRAWLEY — Local employment officials and union representatives are preparing themselves to assist the 1,300 workers notified Thursday that National Beef Packing Co. is closing its beef-processing plant here in April.
The announcement came as a surprise to many local officials when news hit the national business wires early Friday morning and National Beef sent out a media release just a few hours later.
Teamsters Local 542 was in negotiations with the company for a new contract for the beef workers it represents, said Phil Farias, chapter president.
“We’re going to help them find jobs, but in the Imperial Valley, that’s damn hard,” Farias said, when asked how the union plans to assist the beef processor’s employees.
“There’s not 1,300 jobs (in the Imperial Valley),” he said.
Teamsters Local 542 is one of two unions that represent National Beef’s employees. The other is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Representatives from the state Economic Development Department and other employment agencies are forming a rapid response team to help National Beef’s employees train or transition to different types of jobs once the plant closes, said Francisco Marquez, One Stop Business and Services director.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes to facilitate the displaced,” Marquez said. “We’ll see what we can do to minimize the impact.”
One Stop is EDD’s workforce development agency.
Before EDD and One Stop can move forward with the rapid response team, Marquez said a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act notice needs to be filed with the EDD. The WARN notice authorizes EDD and One Stop to work with National Beef and any union representatives that may be representing their employees.
A provision in the WARN Act and the California Labor Code requires advisement to the affected city and county about the termination of its operations. It also lists when the facility will close, how many are employed by the facility and the job positions that will no longer be in place.
“Usually we get a warning notice. This is a complete shock,” Marquez said. “National Beef was one of the largest employers in the county so it’s obviously a major blow to the economic base and will impact a number of families.”
Jesse Larios, manager at Foster Feed Yard in Brawley, said when he learned of the announcement during a meeting it took everyone by surprise here Friday morning.
“National Beef is the largest private and union employer in the Imperial Valley,” Larios explained. “With the plant shutting down, it will impact cattle produce in the Imperial Valley, which in turn will affect the local agricultural input of alfalfa and Sudan.”
Larios estimated the negative impact of the facility’s closure could also be felt at the state level because California is the largest dairy producer, with many of the dairy calves being fed in the Imperial Valley and marketed at National Beef.
“With this plant closing down, our options to go to other packing plants are limited,” he said. “We will dramatically cut down on the purchases of dairy calves, which will affect calf raisers and dairy men throughout California. This comes at a time where agriculture in California is dealing with a severe drought and many jobs are going to be affected.”
It was a shock to the city of Brawley as well, which has been in negotiations with National Beef over wastewater discharge for years due to fines levied against the city for high levels of ammonia.
The city of Brawley didn’t receive notification of the closure from National Beef itself until the afternoon, Brawley City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore said, adding advanced warning of the closure came from news reports.
While the county’s unemployment rate fell to 22.5 percent in December, it consistently ranks the highest in the state. A loss of 1,300 jobs here translates to a 2 percent decrease to the workforce, said Tim Kelley, president of Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.
IVEDC Chairman Tom DuBose described the situation as “devastating.”
“It’s devastating not just because of the 1,300 direct jobs, but to the entire industry,” he said.
Local, state and economic development officials were to have met with National Beef representative in an undisclosed location at an undisclosed time Friday evening.
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