published Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Pilgrim's Pride announces 105 more layoffs in Chattanooga

  • photo
    Aaron Laster, left, waits outside after his shift at Pilgrim's Pride on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, at the plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Laster has worked at Pilgrim's Pride for 16 years. The plant filed papers with the state to lay off as many as 400 employees by June 15, 2012.
    Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Chattanooga Pilgrim's Pride deboning plant will lay off 105 more workers by Saturday for a total of 190 jobs cut in less than a month.

Company officials expect this will be the last round of layoffs aimed at improving plant efficiencies. Chattanooga used to house the only major deboning facility in the region for the company, but officials decided to expand deboning operations to other plants in an effort to save on transportation costs.

"While the decision to reduce the workforce in Chattanooga was not made lightly, we are confident that these actions will improve the efficiency of our plant, maintain our mutually profitable relationship with growers, and strengthen our ability to produce quality poultry products in Tennessee," local complex manager Tim Lawson said in a statement. "The Chattanooga operation remains a vital part of our ongoing strategy."

Most affected employees were told of the layoffs over the weekend and Monday. At one point, Pilgrim's Pride expected it could cut as many as 400 jobs from Chattanooga, according to information from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. But filings with the state labor department typically show a worst-case scenario, and the company ultimately decided that drastic of cuts was unnecessary.

Because of normal turnover at poultry processing plants, Pilgrim's officials hope to rehire some of the laid-off employees as positions become available. In the meantime, the state labor department and Pilgrim's will help affected workers apply for unemployment benefits.

Pilgrim's Pride employed nearly 1,500 people in Chattanooga at the beginning of the year. Because only the location of operations is changing, not the company's output, Pilgrim's Pride broiler growers will not be affected by the changes.

Despite the cutbacks at Pilgrim's Pride, rival poultry processor Koch Foods plans to add 100 broiler houses to the region over the next several months. Across Tennessee, broiler houses have been popping up at a rate of 10 to 12 houses a month.

Contact Carey O'Neil at coneil@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525. Follow him at twitter.com/careyoneil.

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