A switch from the warm, relatively quiet work of injection molding to the hot, heavy labor that is rotomolding at Mattel's Fisher-Price toy operation in Medina, N.Y., prompted some employees to just say no - and quit. But it wasn't just the nature of the work. The possibility of advanced job training, attractive retirement benefits and a mistrust of Mattel by old-line Fisher-Price employees also helped prompt only 150 of 790 Fisher-Price injection molding employees to take positions, out of a total of 250 available Mattel rotomolding jobs. Outside temporaries are holding down the remaining 100 jobs, which the company said are gradually filling with permanent employees.
The new Mattel/Fisher Price Outdoor Play Equipment Division, nicknamed Opie by employees, is housed in a building half a block away from the longtime Medina Fisher-Price injection molding building, which will be vacated.
Whether rotomolding is the cause of a low response to a new style of work ``depends on who you talk to,'' said Fisher-Price spokeswoman Carol M. Blackley.
Soon-to-retire Fisher Price injection molding employee Patricia Daluisio is adamant about the change in working conditions.
``Maybe some other [rotomolding] plants have air conditioning. It'll get to be 120§ in Opie in the summer, what with the open ovens,'' she noted. ``And they pour powdered plastic into the molds. It goes all over your hair and skin and gets into your lungs.
``They want me to do [assembly] line work, which means picking parts up that weigh 70 pounds, and put them together. I've never enjoyed line work. I get very nervous and I'm slow.''
Daluisio said she will work until May 28, when she will receive a severance and an additional 60 days' pay in a buyout package. She then automatically receives benefits from the Fisher-Price pension plan. Daluisio, 61, with nearly 22 years at Fisher-Price, said, ``If anyone [leaving the company's employ] is over 55, theylucked out.''
But mostly younger, single parents who face bleak local employment possibilities face a different problem. Orleans County has an employment work force of 187,000 and an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, said state Department of Labor Community Service Manager Kathleen Marnell - not counting the end-of-June layoffs at Fisher-Price, up to now the county's largest employer.
``Most of the women who went over there [to the outdoor play equipment operation] are single parents with families. They've got to support their kids,'' Daluisio said.
Another Fisher-Price injection molding employee, Robert Fox, 39, will earn $11.50 an hour in the inventory room of the old plant until he leaves voluntarily later this month. He qualified for a position in the new rotomolding facility earning only $7 an hour.
Given the option of taking a $15,000 lump-sum buyout package this spring, ``I figured it was time to move on.''
One industry expert questioned whether rotational molding is by definition more arduous work than injection mold-ing.
The situation ``sounds to me like [Mattel] didn't go far enough in their automation,'' said James Braeunig, vice president, operations, of rotomolder Henstrom Inc. of Ashland, Ohio, and current president of the Association of Rotational Molders.
He noted the company may have installed a less-sophisticated operation than was available in order to participate quickly in the highly competitive toy market.
Braeunig said that while rotational molding is often difficult work, the process is catching up in terms of sophistication and automation to other plastics processes.
``We're five to eight years behind their [injection and blow molders'] learning curve,'' Braeunig said. ``Once we find more grades of different types of material are available to us, and the design community begins to realize who we are,'' the level of operational sophistication will inevitably grow, he said, adding, ``Look at blow molding 10 years ago.''
Blackley disagreed with the contention that the Medina plant is not fully automated.
``Fisher-Price rotational molding plants are state-of-the-art,'' eqivalent or better than any in the industry, she said.
The Medina rotomolding operation began at the end of 1994. Employees said the plant has three rotomolding machines and three large injection molding machines, although Blackley would not confirm the numbers. Blackley also would not reveal the investment in changing from injection molding to rotomolding.
``There's no question the change to rotomolding had an effect on employment,'' Blackley said.
And mistrust about Mattel's message may have contributed, too.
``Medina was growing [as an injection molding plant],'' Blackley said. ``The message to employees was that the plant was successful. Once Mattel then found it had overcapacity, then they looked at Medina and found it more expensive to operate. Yet we were hiring before that.''
Then, in January, as part of companywide reorganization efforts, Mattel announced the gradual cessation of the injection molding operation in Medina to concentrate on the burgeoning children's playground equipment market.
Blackley would not reveal the Medina outdoor play equipment division's output, but said the Mattel plan involves making Medina one of three regional distribution centers in the United States for rotomolded products.
Other distribution centers are in Ontario, Calif., and an undisclosed site in Georgia, she said.
Mattel Inc. of El Segundo, Calif., has molding plants in Tijuana and Monterrey, Mexico, and in China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Italy.
Mattel purchased two Fisher-Price plants in Medina and Murray, Ky., as well as two Mexican operations in Tijuana and Matamoros, for a reported $1.1 billion in December 1993. Four months later, Mattel announced pur-chases of Kransco Groups Co. of San Francisco, with plants in Fort Wayne, Ind., Virginia Beach, Va., and Tijuana.