Workers worry about Grove's future

August 09, 2000

Workers worry about Grove's future

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

SHADY GROVE, Pa. - Harold Brandt has seen his share of ups and downs over the 32 years he's worked in the shop at Grove Worldwide.


So when belt-tightening measures were announced this week, he and other longtime employees resolved themselves to hang in with the hope that their sacrifices will help the company make a quick recovery.

"We've seen it before. Ain't much you can do about it," said the St. Thomas, Pa., man. "I've got too many years here to make changes now, if I don't have to."

Grove, a crane and aerial manlift manufacturer, this week announced voluntary layoffs, reduced work schedules and the sale of its training center in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa., in an effort to turn around the financially troubled company.


If the plan is not successful, it could have a major ripple effect on the local economy, economic development officials said.

"The next four to six months will be critical. We're hopeful that the company will be able to stabilize," said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp.

Longtime employees interviewed Wednesday said some of their co-workers are looking forward to having some extra time off. Workers will be eligible for unemployment, but can also use vacation time or sick time.

But most are concerned about the company's future and hope the cuts won't last long.

"Whatever they have to do to keep the company going, I guess we'll learn to live with it," said Richard Henicle of Waynesboro, Pa., who has been at Grove 24 years.

Company veterans remember the early 1980s, when the layoffs ran deep and long.

Big Wigfield of Bedford, Pa., said one year he only worked 13 out of 52 weeks.

The latest cutback will have employees working three weeks on and one week off through September. Grove will suspend production of its manlifts between Thanksgiving and early January because of large inventories and slow seasonal sales.

In recent years, Grove has been plagued by competition and failure to improve production efficiency caused in part by delays in getting a software system on line, industry analysts have said.

Employees said they didn't know about the cutbacks when they voted two weeks ago to reject unionization.

But they weren't entirely surprised because they knew the company has been struggling in recent years.

"I don't think anybody's too happy about it. They're hoping it's not going to last long," said Wigfield, who has been there 27 years.

A 39-year-old Shady Grove man who declined to be named said he doubts the cuts will make a difference. His wife has told him to look for a job elsewhere, but he's taking things one day at a time.

Grove employees looking for new jobs shouldn't have any trouble because the region has been starving for skilled labor, said John C. Howard, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Corp.

The cutbacks at Grove won't have a big impact on the local economy in the short term, Howard said.

But Ross said there are a number of spinoff companies who supply parts to Grove that will be watching the situation very closely. Worldwide, Grove has 1,600 vendors and suppliers.

Several local suppliers said their businesses are diversified enough that they don't expect to be hurt by the cutbacks.

Terry Roane of Pro-Fabricators in Smithsburg and Kurt Casey of Olympic Steel in Chambersburg, Pa., said the cuts could even increase business at suppliers like theirs.

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