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Layoffs topping 250 hit Strasburg plant

First round of cuts at IAC set for June

By James Heffernan -- Daily Staff Writer

STRASBURG � International Automotive Components plans to cut more than 250 em-ployees, or about a third of its local work force, this summer, a company spokesman confirmed Friday.

The layoffs are slated to begin around June 23, with another round planned for the week of July 18, according to a notice on United Auto Workers Local 2999's Web site this week.

The cuts, which are permanent and based on seniority, stem from the loss of the plant's longtime contract to produce door panels for the Ford F-150 pickup, said David Ladd, a spokesman in IAC's corporate office in Dearborn, Mich. That line is now being handled internally by Ford Motor Co.

The nation's No. 2 automaker closed its assembly plant in Norfolk, one of the Strasburg facility's primary customers, last summer.

Warren Hamrick, a 23-year employee, said losing the F-150 contract came as no surprise to the local work force.

"Everybody's known for a while," he said. "They said unless they got some other kind of contract in, they would have to lay people off."

Hamrick said workers were notified last week that anyone with less than 10 years of tenure would be out of a job.

"It's nothing anyone's looking forward to," he said. "It's going to be tough."

In addition to producing door panels for the Ford F-series pickups, the Strasburg facility makes door and instrument panels for the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, as well as armrests and other interior trim parts for the Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan, Chevy Tahoe, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, GMC Envoy, Saab 9-7X, Nissan Quest and Nissan Maxima.

Ladd said the ongoing UAW-American Axle strike in Detroit, now in its third month, and production cuts from the downturn in the economy are driving layoffs at IAC's 36 manufacturing facilities in North America. The Strasburg plant is one of the company's largest, he said.

"This initiative is to position the company to fit the size of the industry," Ladd said. "We have to adjust our work force to right-size what real production volumes have become."

IAC will comply with UAW's terms regarding severance packages, he said.

The Strasburg plant is a former division of Lear Corp., which sold its struggling automotive interiors unit to IAC North America, a venture led by billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, in December 2006.

Last spring, union members agreed to cuts in wages and benefits totaling $4.33 per worker per hour. The concessions were designed to enable the Strasburg facility to bid on future work at a more competitive rate, according to union officials.

The plant still has about 750 people, making it the largest employer in Shenandoah County.

County officials said the layoffs are disconcerting, but added that the local employment base is strong, and other businesses in the area should be able to absorb workers who have been displaced.

"We have full faith that IAC is working to procure new contracts that will replace the lost work and lost jobs," said District 4 Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli, who chairs the county's economic development committee. "They're very aggressive about pursuing new contracts. Hopefully that will come to fruition in the next few months, and they can start rehiring those workers."

"We're a supporter of IAC," added county Economic Development Director Susie Hill. "They're a very important partner in the community. And we remain optimistic about the future."

Brother Brian Dysart.

Brother Kevin Shockey.