Mikulski calls in Safran officials for answers


On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski convened a meeting in her office in the U.S. Capitol with Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, Safran North American President and CEO Peter Lengyel, CEO of Labinal Global Alain Saurent, President of Labinal North America Jorge Ortega and General Manager of Labinal Salisbury Tony Rodriguez to discuss how to save Salisbury jobs in the wake of Labinal’s surprise announcement that they are moving operations to Texas.

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski summoned top officials from Safran Aeronautics to her Capitol Hill offices on Tuesday and demanded they find ways to protect jobs from leaving the company’s Labinal Power Systems facility in Salisbury.

Those attending the session included Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, Safran North America President and CEO Peter Lengyel, CEO of Labinal Global Alain Saurent, President of Labinal North America Jorge Ortega and General Manager of Labinal Salisbury Tony Rodriguez.

“Today I convened a meeting with Labinal’s executive team to get to the bottom of what can be done to protect Salisbury workers and families that will be impacted by Labinal’s decision to move,” Mikulski said in a statement.

“The dedicated men and women who work day-in and day-out on the factory floor in Salisbury need answers about how their lives will be affected by Labinal’s decision. I will continue to work Labinal leaders as they implement their plan. I want the workers in Salisbury and their families to know I’m on their side. I’ll never stop fighting for them and their economic security.”

Mikulski said, that as a result of the meeting, leaders of Labinal’s parent company Safran North America promised to take the following steps to assist their workers in Salisbury:

  • To work with local government and business and development leaders to help identify a possible new employer for the Salisbury facility
  • Assign a dedicated Labinal employee at the Salisbury facility to explore potential employment opportunities at other regional employers like Wallops Island Flight Facility and Dover Air Force Base for workers facing job loss
  • Develop an inventory of the skills of current Labinal Salisbury employees to determine how they could be matched with other employers in the area
  • Collaborate with local workforce partners to develop and offer retraining for affected workers

Many people are worried about the economic impact of the plant closing, causing the loss of about 600 jobs. At a community forum last week in Salisbury, County Councilman Joe Holloway said he had been told the county will face a $400,000 loss in income tax revenue from the closing.

Mayor Jim Ireton responded by hiring David Wilk of Sperry Van Ness to “further the ongoing dialog with Labinal/Safran,” a news release from his office stated.

“Mr. Wilk will meet with Labinal’s executive and real estate teams to better understand their goals and objectives, and to determine if there is any way to either entice Labinal to stay in Salisbury, or to gain their buy-in on an exit strategy that is most beneficial to employees and taxpayers,” Ireton’s press release stated.

Ireton said development concepts will be discussed, including  uses for the former Salisbury Mall property nearby, for the Labinal property and surrounding neighborhood.

Wilk will meet with officials at Peninsula Regional Medical Center, Salisbury University and neighborhood associations “to seek participation and input in developing strategies which would energize the Labinal and surrounding properties in the future,” Ireton said.

“The city is employing a three-option approach to the cards dealt,” he adding, listing them as working to:

Reverse the Labinal/Safran decision to move to Texas.

Assure some Labinal/Safran employees remain in Salisbury to lessen economic loss.

Rebrand, refurbish and revitalize the facility for a new employer.

“With these options, the area as a whole will need to be reconsidered.  Utilizing Mr. Wilk, as we have done in the negotiations on parking lot No. 1 downtown, I realize what an asset he is to the conversation of what to do at the east Salisbury plant.  Mr. Wilk will be at the table with city leaders to work with all stakeholders on long-term, sustainable options for the city and surrounding community,” the mayor said.

At the state level, Sen. Jim Mathias said he’s disappointed the company announced closing “out of the blue with no forewarning.”

He credited Mikulski for negotiating income for the company by getting contracts for military helicopters and said he would have appreciated knowing in advance that the closing was imminent.

“Somebody clearly had to know what their plans were, but you can’t live incensed about it. You’ve got to figure out what we can do to mitigate it with the company, to mitigate with growth of industries,” he said.

He spoke with a Labinal supervisor in Virginia who assured him the closure “had nothing to do with Maryland’s tax scheme or regulations,” he said.

“She said, ‘Senator, it has everything to do with change in defense contracting. We’re going to be consolidating some of our operations. That’s what this is about,’” Mathias said.

“We have fought long and hard to continue to change to improve the perception of doing business in Maryland. We have a new governor. So, I asked her to issue a press release stating that, saying that the closing is not because of Maryland,” he said.

The Labinal supervisor told him she wasn’t sure if it was possible, but it would be considered.

“I’ve encouraged Labinal, Safran, and asked our new incoming secretary of Business and Economic Development to do anything he could do, if Labinal could be persuaded. We have to protect what we have,” Mathias said.

According to employees inside the Salisbury plant, workers in Texas are waiting on the arrival of some Salisbury equipment to complete some tasks and projects.

They said they had been told that some work performed in Texas had been sent to Chihuahua, Mexico, and they were trying to expedite the move so they would have work to do.

Delegate Carl Anderton said state officials sent letters to Safran officials asking the company to stay, and are willing to meet with them.

“I want to know what’s going on to see if anything can be done at the state level. We’re hopeful we can, if there’s any possible way of saving the operation as it is currently, or to replace it with something compatible for employees to be able to stay,” Anderton, R-38B, said.

“I don’t know if it’s an achievable goal. It happened so fast. It kind of makes me feel like it was planned months ago. I hope we can have a dialogue and see what we can do.”

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