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Upshur workers lose jobs, but have opportunity to transfer

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

BUCKHANNON -- Nearly 20 UponorETI employees who will lose their jobs Christmas Eve have an opportunity to transfer to a similar Oklahoma plant.

"We have several production openings," said Barry Wilder, plant manager of Uponor Aldyl in Tulsa. "I don't know if anybody is going to take it, or not."

Mark Majeski, Buckhannon plant manager, was unavailable for comment.

The two plants are part of the Finnish-owned Uponor Corp., which produces plastic pipe in 30 some nations. Uponor is shutting down the natural-gas pipe portion of the Buckhannon business at the end of its fiscal year.

ETI will continue producing PVC pipe used for plumbing and drainage, which makes up about 85 percent of its current production, Wilder said. The plant has 85 union employees.

"We're going to be bringing the (gas-pipe) equipment into Tulsa in order to minimize the cost of making the product," he added.

In the mid 1990s, Uponor Corp. split gas-pipe production between Tulsa and Buckhannon, which had previously been limited to PVC. Now, Wilder said, Tulsa will solely produce gas pipe and Buckhannon will produce only PVC pipe.

The PVC portion of Buckhannon's business has also seen recent struggles. In September, more than 30 ETI workers were temporarily laid off because of what company officials said was PVC product overstock. Those employees are all back on the job.

Union spokesman Jennings Johnson is cautiously optimistic this job elimination will be the last. He said Local 604 of the United Steelworkers of America represents 85 employees at the plant. The 19 with the least seniority are the ones who will be laid off.

"Industry is really taking a hard hit right now," Johnson said of several West Virginia companies.

He also represents a ferro-silicon plant in Hartford and an Ames warehouse in Parkersburg that are in the process of closing.

"Right now, it's just really slowed down," he said of the economic reality of plastic pipe sales. "We're going to try to work with the company in any way possible to increase business."

County Administrator William Parker said he was also sad to see the staff reduction.

"Anytime you lose any type of manufacturing jobs, it has a negative, long-term effect," Parker said. "It's hard to replace."

The county and the city of Buckhannon had worked with Uponor in 1995, extending sewer lines to an expansion area. Parker said there was no net financial loss on that project because the city has been collecting utility fees on the lines ever since.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1403 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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