Gamesa Inc., the Spanish wind turbine company, has laid off dozens of employees at its Falls site in an effort to correct problems in its tower manufacturing operation.
Julius Steiner, the company’s CEO of U.S. operations, said Wednesday the team producing the wind-generating towers at Falls was underperforming. The employees – many of them were welders – took longer to produce the towers and mistakes increased construction costs, he said.
“The problem was that we weren’t building a tower that was competitive with the ones getting made by a subcontractor,” Steiner said. “The quality we put out had to meet our specifications, so the quality was the same. But the cost to produce the towers was not.”
Gamesa recently evaluated the welders’ skill levels and decided to lay off about 30 welders and about 40 other employees, some of whom held management and administrative positions.
“We determined what people had the necessary skills to produce the product we’re making and we decided to keep them,” he said.
Some of the employees laid off this week could be offered other positions at Gamesa’s three plants in the Keystone Industrial Port Complex. Rather than replace departing workers, Gamesa will scale back its operation to one shift per day, provide additional training and eventually build back up to three shifts, Steiner said.
“We’re working with welding training companies that can come in and improve the skills of the guys we’re keeping,” he said. “Any time you have people displaced, it’s not a pleasant situation. We tried to handle it as humanely as possible.”
Some of the workers were members of the United Steelworkers Union, which represents 400 employees at the site. While acknowledging errors were made that slowed production, union spokesman Rob Witherall said production process issues deserved a share of the blame.
“They’re a startup and there’s a learning curve,” said Witherall. “Part of what’s going on is that they’re going from zero to 60 so quickly they realized they have a lot of problems they need to fix. I think they needed to slow down and get a handle on those operations.”
Witherall said he hopes that once that happens, some of the employees would be rehired.
Steiner said Gamesa would do what it takes to restructure and rebuild the plant’s operations.
“We are very committed to our U.S. project and we think the future is really very, very bright,” he said. “We’re going to continue to invest here.”
By JOHN ANASTASI
Bucks County Courier Times
6 March 2008
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