Bobcat preparing to shut Bismarck plant this month

Bobcat Co. is preparing to permanently shutter its Bismarck plant this month and has begun moving equipment — but not union workers — to its factory in Gwinner. The West Fargo-based company, which makes skid steer loaders and other light construction equipment, announced in September that it would close its Bismarck manufacturing plant by year’s end, cutting 475 jobs. The plant began production in 1974.

The company, owned by South Korea-based Doosan Infracore Co., has said it would open 330 positions at its Gwinner plant southwest of Fargo and 60 at a new plant in Wahpeton, in southeastern North Dakota.

But Jeremy Bauer, president of United Steelworkers Local 566 in Bismarck, said no union workers have been offered jobs at either factory. The Bismarck plant is scheduled for closure Dec. 23, the company says.

“Zero people have been offered jobs,” Bauer said. “I think it will be at least a year before anyone is rehired.

“People are going to have to find other work,” he said. “They can’t rely on Bobcat.”

Tom Ricker, president of United Steelworkers Local 560 in Gwinner, said the plant there still has workers who are laid off and would be offered the jobs first.

“People in Gwinner need to be recalled first, unless there is a job with a particular skill that we don’t have,” Ricker said.

Jim Flynn, Bobcat’s vice president of human resources, said about 240 workers at the Gwinner plant had been laid off since late 2008. About 125 workers there have been called back to work since August, and an additional 55 will resume work in a few weeks, he said.

He would not say how many workers are employed at the plant for competitive reasons. But Ricker said about 670 nonunion employees work at the plant now, down from about 1,100 in 2006.

Another 60 workers will be hired in January for the company’s new plant in Wahpeton, which Flynn said will produce valves and cylinders. Some of the applications for that factory have come from workers at the Bismarck plant, he said.

Flynn said about 50 nonunion managers from the Bismarck plant will be offered jobs at the Gwinner and Wahpeton factories.

Doosan purchased Bobcat in 2007 from Bermuda-based Ingersoll-Rand Co. Ltd., in a deal worth $4.9 billion.

Doosan said at the time that the deal was the largest overseas acquisition in Korean history. It also said it planned no changes in North Dakota operations.

Bobcat later said the move to close the Bismarck plant was spurred by a weak worldwide economy and sluggish sales.

Business is improving for Bobcat, Flynn said.

“I think everything is starting to stabilize,” he said. “The bright side is, we think we’ve seen the bottom.”

Still, he said, the company will be taking a cautious approach to rehiring workers.

“We don’t want to bring in a bunch of people and then have to say we brought in too many,” Flynn said.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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