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Toy plant closing, 300 jobs lost

March 30, 1999|By DON AINES

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - More than 300 employees at the Little Tikes plant learned Tuesday the manufacturer of children's toys was closing down production.

"In terms of production we will cease operations as of today," Scott Silver, the vice president of Human Resources for Little Tikes, said Tuesday.

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He said the Hudson, Ohio-based company will continue to ship products and move equipment between now and the official closing, which will be between May 29 and June 11.

"Most of them will not have to report to work over the next 60 days, but they will be paid and receive benefits," according to Silver.

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After the closing they will get severance packages, including continuation of benefits for a period. Severance packages will be based in part on years of service, he said. The company will be in compliance with a federal law requiring 60 days notice for plant closures, according to Silver.

"I have other things to fall back on ... I'm probably going to take a vacation for a while," said Robert Swackhammer of Chambersburg. He's been a machine operator at the plant for 13 months.

Tambra Walters of Mercersburg has worked at the plant for three years. She had left at 6 a.m. and returned before 6 p.m. for another shift when she heard her assembly line job was gone.

"It was a shock," she said.

"I'm going to miss the people more than anything," said Alynn Kessinger of Chambersburg. "Working 12-hour shifts, you get to be a family," she said.

Although Little Tikes is in Cumberland County, the closing will have an impact on Franklin County, according to L. Michael Ross, executive director of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

"Franklin County residents, especially from Chambersburg to Shippensburg, make up a significant portion of their work force," Ross said.

"We knew we had an excess capacity issue last year," but the company had not determined which of four plants it would close, Silver said. Little Tikes, a division of Newell Rubbermaid, has plants in Ohio and California.

"We also needed to streamline our distribution network," he said. The closing is not related to the merger between Rubbermaid and Newell last week, he said.

Newell makes Levolor blinds and Mirro cookware, among other products, he said.

The molded plastic toys made and shipped from the plant include car-shaped beds, climbing sets and riding toys, Silver said.

The 300,000-square-foot plant on Walnut Bottom Road opened seven years ago, Ross said. He said economic development officials will work with the company to find another manufacturer to lease or buy the 40-acre site.

At 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, a team from the Cumberland Valley Job Center will be at the plant to help displaced employees. The company is also helping with job searches and resume preparation.

The announcement is the latest bad news for the area's manufacturing sector.

In October the Van de Kamp's frozen food plant in Chambersburg closed with the loss of 70 jobs. In February Fort James Corp. plant announced it will close its Chambersburg packaging plant later this year, putting 140 people out of work.

In January, Grove Worldwide, which builds mobile crames in Shady Grove, Pa., announced the layoff of 210 workers.

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