Workers shocked by Tramontina plant's sudden closing: "You could just hear the gasping"

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WBAY) - Nearly 150 workers are out of a job after Tramontina suddenly announced the closure of its Manitowoc facility.

The cookware company says the closure is effective immediately.

"The new CEO/president came in and kind of spoke to us a little bit and said the plant was shutting [down]. That was it," Brittany Green, who worked at the plant for four years, said. "Everybody's jaws kind of dropped. I mean, you could just hear the gasping."

The Manitowoc facility employed 145 people.

“I think he felt bad, but it was just a little bit too late," Beth Flentje, an employee of two years, said.

Employees told us they heard rumors throughout the year and they expected the plant to temporarily shut down for cleanup and maintenance. When they showed up Monday morning, they learned the plant was closed permanently -- the company blaming higher production costs and tariffs.

Workers said they're less concerned about the fact the plant is closed and more upset by how the news was delivered to them.

"It just goes to show that they didn't really care. They could only give us not even a day's notice to look for anything else," Green said. "They didn't really care. That's how I felt, like we're just trash, kind of."

"There are single parents, people that were married, but both were here, so I feel bad for them," said Flentje.

Tramontina president/CEO Marcelo Borges told Action 2 News by email, "The closure was announced and is effective today, July 8, 2019. The employees were not provided a notice of the closure prior to today. However, all affected employees will receive their regular pay and current benefits coverage for the next 60 days as is required by Wisconsin and federal law."

When we asked why employees weren't given notice, Borges replied, "It was a company decision to make the announcement and close the facility today."

Tramontina is also cutting 100 positions at its operation in Sugar Land, Texas.

The company plans to consolidate production in its factories in Brazil.

“This is an extremely difficult announcement for both Tramontina U.S. Cookware and Tramontina USA, and we certainly recognize the impact on our employees and the Manitowoc and Sugar Land communities,” Borges said in a statement.

Borges said the decision to close the Manitowoc plant is based on production cost increases over several years. The company also cites higher tariffs on materials used to make cookware.

"While Tramontina has made substantial equipment and facility investments at the Manitowoc factory to provide greater efficiencies, the company has also absorbed numerous cost increases over the last several years, including but not limited to increases in raw materials, labor and freight expenses. There also has been cost increases from higher tariffs assessed on components used in making cookware, such as glass lids, chrome plated handles, aluminum and steel studs, rivets and screws," read the statement from Tramontina.

Tramontina says it is looking for a company to buy the Manitowoc plant.

Green and Flentje are hopeful they and all their coworkers will make it through.

"That we come out with better jobs, better company to work for," Flentje said.

"Now I have two months before my pay goes away, so, yeah, I have to look for a job ASAP," said Green.

Borges told us by email, "Tramontina U.S. Cookware has also scheduled a job fair for July 23 to assist affected employees. The Job Fair is available for all affected Tramontina U.S. Cookware employees and is scheduled for:

When: Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Where: Manitowoc Public Library
Upstairs Conference Room
707 Quay Street
Manitowoc, WI 54220

Time: 2:00 – 4:00 PM."

Manitowoc Mayor Justin Nickels is urging Tramontina employees to contact his office or Progress Lakeshore for help with finding job openings.

"Many local businesses are hiring/adding jobs as we speak. Lakeside Foods, Redline Plastics, Robinson Metal, Alliance, and a plethora of others in similar jobs as Tramontina. Just today, Broadwind Energy announced $39 million of new tower and fabrication orders," said Nickels in a Facebook post.

Mayor’s Office: (920) 686-6980
Progress Lakeshore: (920) 482-0540

Tramontina opened its Manitowoc facility in 2005.