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Published September 03, 2009, 12:00 AM

Bismarck's pain: Longtime Bobcat workers take news hard

BISMARCK – Ron Vogel reported for his welding job Wednesday morning at the Bobcat Co. plant in Bismarck and was told there would be an important announcement. His co-workers thought the company might talk about a temporary shutdown.

By: James MacPherson, Associated Press Writer, INFORUM

BISMARCK – Ron Vogel reported for his welding job Wednesday morning at the Bobcat Co. plant in Bismarck and was told there would be an important announcement. His co-workers thought the company might talk about a temporary shutdown.

Instead, they were told the Bismarck plant will close permanently by the end of the year, with about 390 of its 475 jobs transferred to the company’s plant in Gwinner.

“There were a lot of chins hanging on the floor,” said Vogel, who worked at the plant for 26 years.

Union officials expect few Bismarck workers to move to Gwinner, a town of about 790 people about 100 miles southwest of Fargo.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet – it’s pretty somber,” said Jeremy Bauer, president of the United Steelworkers Local 566 in Bismarck.

Tom Ricker, president of the United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner, said the plant there has 240 workers who are laid off and would be offered the jobs first. Bauer said few Bismarck workers expect to land jobs in Gwinner.

“We have two separate contracts,” Bauer said. “There’s nothing binding that says we can go to Gwinner, and even if we did, we’d have to start there as brand-new employees.”

Ricker said the union has asked for a meeting with officials of Doosan Infracore Co., Bobcat’s parent company, to try to persuade them to stay in Bismarck.

“It’s worth a shot,” he said.

Gov. John Hoeven said the state will help Bobcat workers, offering unemployment insurance, job training and assistance in finding jobs.

Bauer said he figures many soon-to-be ex-employees will need the leg up from the state.

“Any option you have right now, you better take full advantage,” he said.

Sam Ude said he likely would have to sell his home in Bismarck. He said he has worked as a welder at the plant since it opened 35 years ago, as have many of his co-workers.

“We’re all in our 50s, and we’re not hirable,” he said.

“I’m going to have to rely on my wife more, I guess,” said Dave Kessel, a welder at the Bismarck plant for 35 years.

Bauer said union officials plan to meet with Bobcat next week to try to negotiate better severance packages. Those in place in existing agreements call for a year’s worth of life and health insurance and pay for 10 to 30 weeks, depending on seniority.

Rich Goldsbury, president of Bobcat Americas, said the company would honor its contracts, including those for retired workers.

Company spokeswoman Laura Ness Owens said 475 positions at the Bismarck plant will be phased out between October and December. That doesn’t include the 112 Bismarck workers already laid off and awaiting potential recall, Bauer said.

About 150 engineering, finance, accounts payable and equipment parts jobs at other facilities in Bismarck are unaffected by the plant shutdown, Goldsbury said.

Last month, Bobcat cut 195 jobs at its three North Dakota sites, citing slow sales. It also made cuts earlier, and the plants were idled for part of June and July.

Bismarck City Administrator Bill Wocken said

$15.2 million has been spent on the Northern Plains Commerce Centre, mostly from an economic development fund supported by local sales taxes.

Bobcat moved into a warehouse in the complex in 2006, signing a 50-year, $100,000-a-year lease for the space.


Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.

Forum reporter Dave Roepke contributed to this report

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