Battling tough times

With a world economic slow down affecting companies large and small, major employers in Granville struggling to keep afloat and keep people working are getting help from a state program.

“That program is one of the things that New York State has done really well, in my opinion,” Saint Gobain spokesperson Sherry Aiken said about the Shared Work program.

Shared Work, a program of the New York State Department of Labor was created to help company’s weather fluctuations in the market by providing an alternative to letting full time workers go.

Instead of cutting staffing levels companies in the program reduce the number of hours some or all employees work and those employees are allowed to collect partial unemployment.

Initially implemented to last up to 20 weeks the program has recently been extended to 40 weeks, she said.

An example provided on a labor department fact sheet explains the program this way: After filing a Shared Work plan with the State Labor Department, Plant XYZ receives approval to reduce the hours of its sewing department by 40 % for ten weeks. These workers can file for UI (unemployment insurance) and may be able to collect 40 % of their weekly benefits (after serving an unpaid waiting period of one week).

Aiken said the company had been utilizing the programs since about November, feeling the effects of the slowdown in the automobile and construction industry, two of the industries the company does major amounts of business with.

“It’s absolutely wonderful, the department of the state really wants you to succeed in this program,” Aiken said.

She said the company had applied for and been approved for reducing their work week by 20 percent or one workday per week.

“We’ve worked diligently to try to keep people working,” Aiken said.

The labor department program “allows you to keep your skilled and talented employees working. Obviously it was the right step to take at this time.” 

“It is just the best kept secret. We’ve used it before,” Aiken said. “We have a really strong commitment to keep people employed and continue to keep our 160 workers, both hourly and non-exempt, working.” 

In addition to signing up for the labor department program, Aiken said the company had delayed giving out raises and taken all possible measures to keep its people working.

The program doesn’t prevent you from laying off workers who can transition over to regular layoff system if they have to, she said.

“You do the paperwork here and it’s supposed to be in lieu of going to the office,” Aiken said.

Word about the program has begun to get out and Aiken said she has been sought out for advice and assistance.

“I’ve helped a lot of people with this (program),” Aiken said.

One of those people is Telescope Casual Furniture CEO Kathy Juckett.

Juckett said the layoffs the company has had to make have been minimized by efforts the company made to explore other options, including the Shared Work program and attempts to diversify their product lines.

“We have been doing ‘shared work’ which works really well,” she said.

Juckett said she heard about the program from Aiken.

“She knows all about it, she’s an expert,” she said. 

Juckett said the company had been proactive to try to keep people working and the business flowing, thus avoiding making any layoffs permanent, in light of the current economic situation.

“We haven’t been impacted anywhere near as much as others have,” Juckett said.

She said she hoped to have everyone back to work as soon as possible following an annual winter shutdown.

Juckett said employees had been taking voluntary vacation time as well.

Juckett cited the company’s move to begin producing wood fuel pellets and pet bedding products as one way to keep workers on the job.

“I think that we’ve been in a better position than some,” she said. “It’s just a helluva tough economy out there.”  

 Additional calls to Juckett to  discuss the specifics of the layoffs at Telescope Casual Furniture were not returned as of press time.

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