Glass company in Lodi closes suddenly; 48 lose jobs

A mandatory staff meeting was held at 3 p.m. Friday at Hartung Glass "to discuss Lodi's performance," according to a memo announcing the meeting.

Even the 5 p.m. shift was called in two hours early to attend the meeting.

"That's when they passed out the checks and told us we didn't have a job anymore," said Howie Harvey, who had worked 3 1/2 years at the plant on North Stockton Street, opposite Donner Drive and across from the playground at Lawrence Elementary School.

"I'm kind of devastated about the whole thing," Harvey said.

The Grinch arrived a month before Christmas to inform Hartung's 48 employees Friday afternoon that for most of them, it would be their last day on the job. Some 20 of the employees were finishing uncompleted orders Monday, said Darrel Smith, director of operations for the Lodi, Sacramento and Union City plants.

Smith said he didn't know how many days it will take to complete the remaining orders.

"They're all small orders, so they should be out in a week or two," Harvey said.

"We have experienced an unprecedented number of layoffs in Lodi in the recent past," said Janet Keeter, Lodi's deputy city manager. "Business closures include Silgan (125), Accordia (50), Interlake (180) and now Hartung Glass.

"The ironic thing is that Hartung had been working with Tony Goehring on an expansion project last year."

Goehring was Lodi's economic and development director until June, when he became interim park and recreation director.

Smith said some employees may be offered jobs at Hartung's Union City plant. However, the Sacramento plant is too small to add employees, he said.

"We'll absorb people who we can," Smith said. "We have all good people."

Keeter said she met Monday with representatives of San Joaquin County's WorkNET office to see what they can do for displaced workers. Hartung employees averaged $9 to $12 per hour in pay, she said.

Smith, who will personally lose his job as well, said Monday that the Hartung plant in Lodi was closed because it has had challenges making a profit in the sluggish California economy.

A second factor, Smith said, was that the 33,000-square-foot warehouse and equipment are not well suited for today's market. Smith said he hopes another firm will take over the plant.

"The equipment is not the best, but the people are," he said.

Smith said he hopes that some of Hartung's competitors in Stockton will have openings available for displaced Hartung employees.

That's where San Joaquin County's WorkNET comes in, said George Zangster, employment services specialist in WorkNET's Lodi office.

WorkNET will allow displaced workers to use its computers and fax machines free of charge while searching for a job, Zangster said. WorkNET employees will also search for jobs that are compatible with each job-seeker, he said. The Lodi office is at 631 E. Oak St.

Smith said it wasn't his decision to give employees the news at the 11th hour Friday. That decision, he said, laid either with the Seattle regional office or an authority higher than anyone in Seattle.

Although Smith said Seattle is just a regional office, Hartung's Web site says that Seattle is the corporate office.

Hartung's Lodi plant manufactured custom-tempered, custom-fabricated and custom-insulated glass for commercial and residential construction, Smith said.

"Our production was way beyond everyone's expectations," said a Hartung employee who declined to give his name out of concern for his personal future within the glass industry.

"It felt like (the plant closure) was a set-up," the employee said. "We were told we were one system. It didn't matter what."

Even if the Lodi plant wasn't making money, it wasn't supposed to be a problem as long as the Lodi, Sacramento and Union City plants made money as a unit, the employee said.

Harvey, a caretaker who lives on the grounds of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church next door to the Hartung plant, wonders if he was let go due to age discrimination.

"I'm 57. I am the oldest in the company, so they picked me first," Harvey said. "It's all the big companies buying up the smaller ones so they can have control of the glass industry."

So what about Harvey's future, besides looking for a job or going to a different Hartung plant?

"This is my home," Harvey said. "If anything, I'll go to the Salvation Army and be a bell ringer."

600450 Glass company in Lodi closes suddenly; 48 lose jobs
Date: 26 November 2003

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