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Clarksburg Casket Company shuts down

by Jim Fisher

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- After nearly a century, Clarksburg Casket Co. apparently closed for good Wednesday.

A worker at the plant told The Exponent Telegram Wednesday that he was told by company officials not to report to work today. Clarksburg Casket Co. was purchased in 2000 by Aurora, Ind.-based Aurora Casket Co.

Aurora spokesman Dave Lane confirmed Wednesday night that the company will move the local operation to a recently acquired manufacturing plant in Bristol, Tenn.

The decision to close the Hepzibah operation came after what Lane termed "an exhaustive analysis of business climates existing in Bristol and Hepzibah."

"We believe that this consolidation will allow Aurora to continue to assure its customers an uninterrupted supply of quality hardwood caskets featuring the unique Clarksburg design, while at the same time creating a more efficient and economical process," Lane said.

"Despite the best efforts of the company and the Teamsters Union, other obstacles to the long-term viability of the operation proved too great, including Worker's Compensation insurance, environmental operating issues and health-care costs," Lane added.

Officials from Aurora and Teamsters Union Local 175 have been negotiating a new contract for some time. Earlier this summer, a letter posted at Clarksburg Casket Co. outlined Aurora's plans for closure or downsizing. The document said Aurora might shutter the entire operation on U.S. 19 in Hepzibah.

There were 71 union jobs at the local facility.

In August, the Aurora negotiating team left what Lane called "the company's final offer" for a union vote. Lane said Wednesday he did not believe the union ever voted.

Messages left with the union offices in Fairmont and Charleston were not returned Wednesday.

In July, union official Cliff Brackman said Aurora "switched gears" when negotiations began. Brackman is business representative of Teamsters Local 175 in Fairmont.

In July, Brackman said negotiations "turned into effects bargaining -- working on severance and medical coverage for the employees."

The letter posted at Clarksburg Casket Co. said Aurora may have continued a downsized operation if a collective bargaining agreement could have been reached with the Teamsters, effective Sept. 1.

Lane did not know if any local workers would be transferred to Tennessee, but said it was unlikely. He also did not know details about severance packages.

"In regards to any positions being offered in Bristol, there is a full package of craftsmen in place in Bristol, so other than maybe some management positions, I don't think any other positions will be offered," he said.

In March, Aurora purchased Cortrim Hardwood Parts Co. in Bristol. At that time, company officials said they had no immediate plans to close the Clarksburg plant, mainly because the Bristol facility focused more on furniture.

Aurora bought Clarksburg Casket Co. in 2000. Prior to that, the local firm had been controlled by the heirs of its founder, Frank Wilson, who started the business in 1906 to take advantage of the city's proximity to hardwood forests.

Staff writer Jim Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com