Huge Job Losses Spur Community Rally Asking ConAgra for "Dignity - WICU12 HD WSEE Erie, PA News, Sports, Weather, Events

Huge Job Losses Spur Community Rally Asking ConAgra for "Dignity and Justice"

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Hundreds rallied in Chautauqua County on Thursday night, asking for "dignity and justice" from ConAgra foods.

Employees community leaders, and union members all gathered at Barker Commons in Fredonia, NY, to send a message to the parent company of Carriage House plants, ConAgra, the second largest employer in northwest Chautauqua County.

The condiment and beverage company plans to relocate its plants in Fredonia and Dunkirk to Kentucky by early 2015, which would eliminate 425 jobs in the area.

Many employees at have worked at the plant for most of their lives - the average employment duration is more than 20 years at the plant, meaning that many have been doing their job long before ConAgra purchased the company two years ago, according to Union 266 NCFO president, Tom Dickerson, who is also an employee at the plant.

Some are concerned about finding future employment opportunities.

"We've got mortgage and bills to take care of and pay. Right now, we don't know. We're up in our mid-40's now and it's hard to find other jobs in other places," said Gary Lockett, who has been working at the company for 8 years. His wife, Nellie Lockett, has been employed at the plant for 19 years.

The rally aimed to minimize the negative impact ConAgra's plant move might have on the community.

They asked for a severance package for employees that could be agreed upon as fair, for ConAgra to keep some operations running in the area, and  maintaining a "no strings attached" policy when it comes to selling the facility - meaning ConAgra would not stop a transaction even if the offer was made by a competitor company.

Most at the rally signed a poster-sized letter to ConAgra to show solidarity for the employees who will be losing their jobs come February 2015. While a critical problem, community leaders are also concerned about the ripple effect the plants' closings will bring.

"Our village is going to be impacted by a $1.5 million dollar shortfall based on the water and sewer usage of ConAgra, so we're laying off employees for the village also," said Steve Keefe, the Mayor of Fredonia.

Keefe also cited concerns for the local farmers who ship large orders of grapes to ConAgra to produce grape pulp and juice.

"We are going to have grapes dying on the vine," Keefe said.

Other local leaders attribute the motive behind ConAgra's move towards a sole interest in profits.

"Corporate greed is following the bottom line and they're not being responsible towards the community that created the profits in their pocket," said Martha Robertson, a litigator in Tompkins County who is running for congress in Fredonia's district, D-32.

While ConAgra's decision to close the Chautauqua County plants seems all but a done deal, employees still have hope.

"I'm hoping a miracle will happen, that they will decide to stay here," Gary said.

The union's first meeting with ConAgra to discuss severance packages and other requests will be on June 4th.


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