Pilgrim's Pride may lay off 400 workers in Chattanooga, state says

Pilgrim's Pride may lay off 400 workers in Chattanooga, state says

May 30th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil in News

Jason Stamper talks about Pilgrim's Pride's decision to file paperwork with the state to lay off as many as 400 employees by this summer at the plant in Chattanooga. Stamper has worked in the quality control department for five years.

Jason Stamper talks about Pilgrim's Pride's decision to...

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Pilgrim's Pride may lay off or relocate as many as 400 workers in Hamilton County by June 15.

The poultry processing company, which operates two downtown Chattanooga plants with nearly 1,500 workers, said the job cuts are because of improved plant efficiencies.

Pilgrim's Pride said it will continue to process as many chickens as it has in the past and will not cut its orders from contract growers in the area.

After announcing last week it was laying off 85 employees in Chattanooga, Pilgrim's Pride told state regulators the company could lay off another 170 employees next week and another 140 workers on June 15.

Margaret McDonald, spokeswoman for Pilgrim's Pride, said the company has not decided how many more employees will be laid off.

"We don't have any further numbers to report," she said Tuesday afternoon. "We are still working through an evaluation of this."

Representatives of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Tuesday that agency officials will hold meetings next month to help workers being displaced find other work or file for jobless benefits.

Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Labor Department, said it's common for businesses filing layoff warnings ultimately to let fewer workers go.

But several Pilgrim's employees seemed resigned to the possibility of more layoffs. Which employees lose their jobs is out of their control, several said Tuesday afternoon during a shift change.

"It doesn't bother me at all; they either will or they won't," said Tony Alford, a two-year employee. "Hopefully, I'll be all right."

Jason Stamper, a five-year employee, said most of his co-workers seem to be adopting a similar attitude.

"It's really crazy," he said. "Pretty much everybody's just trying to keep to their jobs."

Nationally, the poultry industry has struggled with rising feed costs as corn is diverted to meet ethanol production mandates, according to Casey Ritz, a professor with the University of Georgia's Department of Poultry Science.

"Naturally, this will impact the cost of doing business," he said in an email. "With the narrow profit margins historically associated with poultry production, large increases in the most fiscally demanding component will negatively impact the overall stability of the industry."

But Pilgrim officials say they will not scale back production.

"The good news overall for Pilgrim's is it's because of our efficiencies that we've been able to consolidate," McDonald said. "We're just finding where we can do things that are more efficient."

Contact staff writer Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.