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Tyson closing Nebraska plants, cutting 1,700

The families affected by the closing of two Tyson Foods Inc. plants in Nebraska had trouble being as optimistic as their city leaders after hearing the news.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The families affected by the closing of two Tyson Foods Inc. plants in Nebraska had trouble being as optimistic as their city leaders after hearing the news.

West Point lost 365 jobs — and its largest employer — with the immediate closing of the slaughterhouse there on Wednesday, and Norfolk will lose about 1,300 jobs when the processing plant there closes on Friday.

Tyson said the closings are part of an effort to become more efficient and most of the work will move to the company’s expanded plant in Dakota City, Neb.

Michelle Nuccio said she had trouble believing the news initially when her husband called from the West Point plant where he worked for the past five years.

“At first, I didn’t believe my husband because he’s kind of a jokester,” Nuccio said. “But when my husband started crying you know it’s serious.”

Nuccio said her family will be reluctant to move because they just opened a day care business in November and they were remodeling their home. But she said it will be hard to find a job that can match what her husband made as a manager at Tyson.

“We regret the disruption the closings will cause our team members and these two outstanding plant communities, which both have a long history in the meatpacking industry,” John Tyson, chairman and CEO of Tyson Foods, said in the news release.

The company is based in Springdale, Ark.

Tyson’s second-quarter earnings will reflect a charge of $46 million, or 8 cents per share, the company said. The sum includes a non-cash charge of $36 million. Tyson says it now forecasts its fiscal 2006 earnings to be between 42 cents per share and 72 cents per share.

Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce president Dan Mauk and city administrator Michael Nolan both pointed out that the city has experienced similar business closings in the past, including the closing of the same processing plant in 1998 when BeefAmerica owned it.

Nolan said the number of feedlots in northeast Nebraska near Norfolk ensure that the food processing industry will remain a major employer in the area, but this closing will cause “some discomfort.”

IBP Inc., which is now a division of Tyson, bought the former BeefAmerica plant in Norfolk in 1998 and reopened it in 2000 after extensive renovations. IBP purchased the West Point plant in 1967 from Armour & Company.

Tyson’s remaining Nebraska operations include plants in Dakota City, Lexington, Madison, Omaha and York. The company employed 9,865 people in the state before these closings.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the company will offer cash bonuses to encourage workers to transfer to other plants in the region.

The company has hundreds of openings at its other facilities, Mickelson said, but he declined to say exactly how many jobs are available.

Norfolk and West Point workers will be paid and will receive benefits for another 60 days, the company said.