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Hermiston Foods employees prepare for life after closure

CAPECO and Worksource Oregon help train those looking for new careers
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on November 3, 2017 3:08PM

Last changed on November 3, 2017 3:20PM

Hermiston Foods on South Highway 395 in Hermiston will shut down in November 2017, laying off 199 employees.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Hermiston Foods on South Highway 395 in Hermiston will shut down in November 2017, laying off 199 employees.

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Nearly 200 Hermiston Foods employees are getting help seeking new jobs as the plant prepares to process its last vegetable this month.

NORPAC Foods Inc. announced at the end of June that it would be shutting down the vegetable-processing plant — Hermiston’s ninth largest employer — in order to consolidate the plant’s operations with a facility in Quincy, Washington.

According to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification sent to the state, 199 people will be laid off, including 14 salaried employees, and “closure separations are anticipated to begin November 13, 2017 or within fourteen (14) days thereafter.” The notice states that there will be “some limited work” decommissioning the plant in the ensuing months.

The notification is required by law for layoffs involving at least 50 people. It gives the state’s dislocated worker unit a chance to partner with state and local agencies to help workers with the transition to unemployment or their next job.

“The goal is to re-employ the workers as quickly as possible,” John Asher of the Oregon Dislocated Worker Unit said.

For the Hermiston Foods closure, CAPECO (Community Action Program of East Central Oregon) and Worksource Oregon have been making visits to Hermiston Foods each week to train employees on things like applying for unemployment, enrolling in health insurance plans in the Affordable Care Act marketplace and writing a resume. CAPECO held a job fair for workers recently, and Worksource Oregon hosted individualized meetings with employees to discuss job hunting.

“We know a lot of manufacturing plants in the area that are desperate for workers,” Tara Bishop of CAPECO said.

For some laid-off employees, immediately getting a job at another food processing plant in the area, such as Conagra Foods or Shearer’s Foods, may be their preference. But Bishop said many of Hermiston Foods’ hourly workers lack English skills or a GED, and CAPECO is willing to help them get both — or other needed education and skills training — in order to improve their job prospects in the future.

“There are a lot of opportunities for this group, but it’s also a great opportunity for them to scale up, increase their education,” she said.

NORPAC spokeswoman Amy Woods said in an email that Hermiston Foods’ day shift ended early and its night shift started late on Wednesday in order to give employees an opportunity to go to the job fair, which featured booths by 22 local employers and five agencies.

She said production supervisors and quality assurance supervisors have also been encouraged to apply at NORPAC’s Quincy facility.

Hermiston Foods has been an employer in Hermiston since 1990, with hiring ramping up each harvest season. The facility processes peas, sugar snap peas, edamame, lima beans, carrots and asparagus. Woods said most of the produce came from the Hermiston and Boardman area, except for the asparagus, and was sent to NORPAC’s warehouse facilities in Salem afterward. NORPAC will continue to contract for peas, sugar snap peas and carrots from area growers but will send them to other NORPAC facilities in future seasons, she said.

In its 2016 financial report, the city of Hermiston listed Hermiston Foods as the ninth largest employer in town, making up 2.8 percent of the city’s total employment. Hermiston Foods was also the city’s largest water customer. It purchased $119,584 worth of water from the city over the course of a year.

Hermiston Foods has been a community partner over the years in a number of ways. It has donated produce to the Agape House’s food bank, given tours to Leadership Hermiston classes learning about agriculture, and processed food for Farmers Ending Hunger.

This year’s Leadership Hermiston class toured Shearer’s Foods instead for its annual agriculture day.

John Burt, executive director for Farmers Ending Hunger, said the nonprofit — founded by Hermiston resident Fred Ziari — has gotten peas and carrots from Hermiston Foods in the past but will work with NORPAC to come up with another solution.

“NORPAC Foods has been a great partner with Farmers Ending Hunger and we expect that to continue even with the closure of Hermiston Foods,” he said.

NORPAC Foods is a co-op of more than 200 growers farming more than 35,000 acres in the Pacific Northwest. It is headquartered in Salem. The company has not released information yet on its plans for marketing or re-purposing the Hermiston Foods facility.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.



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