Meridian Automotive Systems Inc. plans to close its Centralia, Ill., thermoset vehicle parts plant, according to a labor official.
Meridian notified Illinois' Department of Employment Security that it will lay off 360 employees at the Centralia operation. The layoffs began April 1. By July 1 the plant will be shut down, said Gayla Miller, president for Local 1766 of the United Auto Workers, the union representing staff at the plant.
Miller said her union local offered Meridian $8 million in cost savings to help keep the plant open but management declined the offer. Officials at the Dearborn, Mich., company were not available to comment.
The Centralia plant molds sheet molding compound into vehicle components for Ford Motor Co. The plant's workload has declined in the past few years. When Meridian purchased it in August 2000, it employed more than 1,100 and made parts for several auto and truck firms. UAW literature claims that at that time it was the largest SMC plant in the world with sales of about $12 million a month. Early this year the UAW said the unionized work force at the site declined to 348 prior to the recent layoffs.
UAW Local 1766 struck the plant for nine days in late 2002, returning to work on Dec. 23. The union said it struck over health and safety issues. Miller said employment prospects are grim for laid-off workers. Marion County, where Centralia is located, has the highest unemployment rate in Illinois, according to Miller.
The Centralia operation began in 1964 as Molded Fiber Glass Co. It was owned by Robert Morrison, a pioneer in SMC's development. North American Rockwell bought the facility in 1970 and sold it to Cambridge Industries in 1994. Meridian acquired it six years later. The 500,000-square-foot plant had 31 compression molding presses with clamping forces of up to 4,000 tons.