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Closing of Brackenridge's Flabeg will put 100 out of work

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By Chuck Biedka

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

About 100 employees will lose their jobs when major U.S. car mirror maker Flabeg closes its Brackenridge plant sometime next year, company and union officials said Friday.

As of yesterday, about 95 full-time and 20 part-time employees were drawing paychecks from the Flabeg Automotive U.S. Corp.'s Brackenridge plant at 851 Fifth Ave.

Charlie Johnson, senior vice president of Flabeg US Holdings Inc., declined to say just when the manufacturer will shut down auto mirror production. He said a rumor that the plant will close in March is "absolutely erroneous."

The closing is part of a major restructuring started by the parent corporation's European plants about two years ago.

It occurs in response to increasing global competition from Asian auto mirror makers with lower labor costs hungry for Flabeg's business.

The Brackenridge plant closing won't impact about 200 employees of the world's biggest solar mirror plant near Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay or 100 workers at the Flabeg operation in Connecticut, Johnson said.

The employees voted yesterday afternoon to accept a severance package offered by the company.

"We knew the closing had been rumored for years," said unit chairman Ron Pacek, a 16-year employee from Tarentum. The United Steelworkers local, which represents the plant, didn't have severance language in their contract, he said.

"We're not going to get rich, but it will tide us over," Pacek said.

"I see this as a situation where one door closes and another opens."

Pacek said he is dismayed for a number of the workers who walk to the plant and don't own a car. That will make their search for a new job that much more difficult.

Employee Carla Robinson, another 16-year employee from Tarentum, said she, too, is saddened.

"We worked so hard to keep this plant going," she said.

Johnson, of Pittsburgh, said he "fought a hard battle" to keep the plant and that the impending closing is "very difficult and very painful."

He wouldn't go into detail, but said the impending closing is part of a North American reorganization for the parent corporation, Flabeg Gmb based in Nuremberg, Germany.

Johnson said that in addition to the severance packages, some transfer offers will be made. But he thinks most of the employees will stay in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Government notified

Johnson notified state and local officials about Flabeg's plans, as is required by state law.

Dennis Davin, director of economic development for Allegheny County, said he was notified yesterday about the plant closing.

A meeting will be held next week with plant officials to discuss what the county and others can do to help, he said.

"We don't know much and we don't know what is needed," Davin said. "Obviously, we'd love them to stay open."

Johnson said it's possible Flabeg could rescind the closing if the world economy changes enough, but that isn't likely.

What's next for the site?

Flabeg has been leasing the 8.6-acre Brackenridge property from Tomson Scrap Metal since 2009. Jim Tomson said he bought the tract and building for $1.6 million to keep the company in the borough.

"I hope they never move. I hope their business turns around. It's all about jobs," Tomson said yesterday. "That's why I bought it -- to keep the jobs."

If Flabeg moves as expected and another manufacturer isn't interested, Tomson said he will move his scrap metal operation onto the tract.

Plant dates to the 1920s

The original plant was built in the 1920s and expanded in the 1960s and 1990s.

Flabeg had more than 160 employees as late as 2008.

About 60 employees were furloughed in 2009 because of a market downturn, according to news accounts at the time.

At its peak after an expansion in the 1990s, Flabeg's Brackenridge plant was annually manufacturing about 20 million automotive exterior mirrors.

It's still manufacturing 14 million each year, Johnson said.

Union members said they were told Flabeg will send some of the Brackenridge machinery to the Connecticut plant and some to a plant in Europe.

Johnson said the Brackenridge plant has produced about 70 percent of the domestic exterior auto mirror market.

"It's a well-kept secret," Johnson said. "Now, it's a sad one."

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