Campbell Soup Co. workers in Calif. prepare for layoffs

The Sacramento BeeJanuary 11, 2013 

— The first group of Campbell Soup Co. workers, 290 in all, will lose their jobs by Feb. 1 as part of the gradual shutdown of the company's plant in south Sacramento.

Campbell announced Sept. 27 that it would shutter the 65-year-old factory, moving production to out-of-state plants and eliminating more than 700 hard-to-replace blue-collar jobs, some paying $20 an hour or more.

The closure is set to be completed in stages that will continue into this summer, ending a long chapter that saw the local production of soups, beverages, sauces and other consumer staples.

State documents show a graduated schedule of 290 full-time job eliminations by Feb. 1, 320 more by May 1 and another 150 by July 1.

Attempts to get comment from the company Thursday were unsuccessful.

In September a Campbell spokesman said, "Sacramento is one of our oldest plants, one of our least efficient," with "the highest product cost per case of any plant in the U.S."

Most of the local facility's work will shift to Campbell plants in North Carolina, Ohio and Texas.

The plant on Franklin Boulevard opened in 1947, bolstering the region's reputation as a national leader in the tomato business. Employment once was as high as 2,200.

In the mid-1990s, the company publicly threatened to shut the facility, citing cost concerns. City and county officials responded by pulling together a package of incentives, including a property tax break worth $500,000 a year.

The company kept the plant open and poured more than $100 million into capital improvements.

As it turned out, that only bought time.

Since September's closure announcement, local Campbell employees have been getting some help.

Counselors at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency have been working with employees since November through SETA's Rapid Response program, holding resource fairs and workshops on résumé writing and interview techniques.

At the events at the Campbell Soup plant, employees receive information on unemployment insurance and the local labor market, and are meeting with other industry employers looking to hire, said William Walker, a SETA workforce development manager heading the Rapid Response effort.

"We tell them what jobs are available, what transferrable skills they have and what resources are available to them once they leave Campbell's," Walker said. "We want to get them comfortable getting back into the workforce and into the labor market."

SETA and Campbell Soup have scheduled a job fair for employees at the south Sacramento plant on Jan. 22. Walker noted that C&H Sugar and other food processors have shown interest in the Campbell workers.

The long-term future of the 136-acre Campbell site remains undetermined, but it is being marketed for sale in an area zoned for manufacturing.

The Campbell Soup closure is the latest in a long line of shutdowns that has severely sapped the once-vibrant canning and packing industry in the Sacramento area.

According to historical accounts, the area had 20 major canning or packing plants by the close of the 1920s, not counting regional accessory companies that produced tin cans and packing crates.

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