The parent company of a Scarborough manufacturing plant specializing in aircraft engine components laid off 125 employees Thursday and is closing the facility.
Whitcraft Group CEO Doug Folsom said sharply reduced air travel due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions has eliminated demand for the precision-tooled components produced at the plant, noting that commercial air traffic is down by 95 percent.
“I know how talented the workforce is; they’re a bunch of a tremendous machinists,” Folsom said. “It’s just heartbreaking to close the plant, but we can’t operate the plant if there’s no demand for the product.”
Whitcraft joins a number of Maine companies that have laid off workers recently in response to physical distancing and stay-at-home measures designed to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Most employees had been on furlough for the past month as Whitcraft continued to pay for benefits. Folsom said Friday was the first day of being laid off for all but “30 or 40” who will continue to work on closing the facility over the next three months.
No severance has been offered to employees who were laid off.
Several employees expressed dismay over the abrupt timing of the layoffs, having learned of their fate Wednesday, a day before the end of the month when benefits that included health insurance ended.
“I don’t think it’s fair that certain people who have been there for several decades are basically thrown out on the streets with no compensation in any fashion,” said Chad Harrill, a machinist who has worked at the plant for nearly seven years.
Harrill, a father of two children under the age of 5, is married to a nurse and said he is fortunate the family uses her health insurance plan.
Jordan Shain, a quality inspector nearing his eighth anniversary at the plant, had been on a rotational furlough for the past six weeks, and had been told he would be called back May 4. Instead, Wednesday’s phone call delivered news of the closure.
“I was blindsided and shocked,” he said.
Shain’s family includes his wife, also in nursing, and children aged 8 and 12. All were on his health, dental and vision plans. He said many of his former co-workers are in the same situation when it comes to insurance.
“I would just like Whitcraft to maybe take another look at this,” Shain said. “I don’t expect them to help out with six months of health insurance, but it shouldn’t have been, ‘Tomorrow’s the end of the month and you’re out of health insurance.’ Every one of those workers are good, hard-working people and we deserve better than this.”
Folsom said the Connecticut-based company has 11 divisions and the Scarborough facility is one of three being shut down because of issues related to the pandemic. The other two are in Arizona and Florida. He said Whitcraft laid off 20 percent of its workforce at eight other facilities that make components for noncommercial aircraft, and which remain operational.
Whitcraft bought the Scarborough facility a year ago from LAI International. Folsom said the company had raised pay and, until two months ago, had been planning for growth.
“The final determination only came in the last couple days,” Folsom said. “As early as a week ago, we thought we’d be able to keep Scarborough open.”
What originally began as the Rich Tool & Die Co. in Windham moved to Scarborough in 1992 and changed its name to Rich Technology International. It featured material processing machines for clean-cutting, welding, profile machining and hole-drilling, according to the website of LAI, which bought the facility in 2007.
Brent King of Windham started with Rich Tool & Die in 1986 and remained with the company for the next 34 years. He had been on furlough as a quality supervisor since March 18 until receiving the call Wednesday.
“I was really shocked that they gave me a day and a half for my medical insurance,” said the 67-year-old King. “That’s not even giving you a chance to pick up another policy. … Whitcraft is a large corporation. For them to pull this on 125 employees was uncalled for, I believe, and showed not too much respect.”
The state Department of Labor said Whitcraft gave notice of the layoffs on Friday. The notice said Whitcraft plans to terminate its remaining Scarborough workforce on or before July 31.
In a prepared statement announcing the layoffs, Folsom lamented the decision to close the plant in Maine.
“Unlike some other industries, commercial aviation is not likely to recover quickly when the stay-at-home orders are lifted,” he said. “Industry experts now project that the return to pre-COVID-19 commercial air passenger traffic will take two years or perhaps even more. Simply put, there are just no orders required to be filled by this facility due to the pandemic.”