Moosehead to lay off 70 employees at Saint John brewery

About 70 workers at the Moosehead Breweries facility in Saint John will be laid off next year.

Almost half of hourly production workers to be laid off at end of June 2015

Moosehead Breweries Limited will be laying off about half of its hourly production staff in Saint John at the end of June 2015 1:45

Moosehead Breweries Limited will be laying off about half of its hourly production staff in Saint John at the end of June 2015.

The approximately 70 layoffs at the west side brewery are the "direct result" of the loss of a major brewing and packaging contract with an international brewing company, president and chief executive officer Andrew Oland said on Thursday afternoon.

He declined to say which contract it was, citing confidentiality, but it represented about 40 per cent of the company's overall business for the past 10 years, he said. 

CBC News understands the contract was with Guinness, with the company moving production to its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.

Bill Farren has been a Moosehead employee for 38 years and is also councillor Ward 1, which includes brewery. He says he has seen much bigger changes over the years.

"There'll be some of us who'll be able to retire. Hopefully most of us will," he said. "And make some room. But that still leaves an awful lot of Moosehead people who'll be sorely missed."

Farren said the scope of the layoffs shocked him.

"We knew it was going to be deep but we didnt think it was going to be this deep and it was pretty sad," he said. "You got a lot of coworkers and a lot of relations built there."

Andrew Oland, the president and chief executive officer of Moosehead Breweries, said the roughly 70 layoffs at the west side brewery are the "direct result" of the loss of a major brewing and packaging contract with an international brewing company. (CBC)
Still,
Oland contends the New Brunswick company's future is bright, with a "strong and growing demand" for its own brands, and other parts of the multi-generational family business being successful and profitable.

"Naturally we are disappointed this step has become necessary," said Oland.

"Regrettably, there is now substantial excess brewing capacity around the globe and many international brewers are electing to produce their brands in their own breweries,"  he said.

Moosehead currently has about 144 unionized employees working at the Saint John brewery, located on Main Street west. They were given details about the pending layoffs earlier Thursday and the affected employees were given the rest of the day off.

The starting hourly wage of those positions is $29, said Oland. The timing of the layoffs in June coincides with the end of the major contract, he said.

Moosehead will continue to try to find another contract to replace the lost business, said Oland.

"There's always the possibility. We're goingto work very hard. But we have to be realistic and, most importantly ,we have to prepare our employees for the reality of what's going on," he said.

Some of the job cuts may come through scheduled retirements, but the exact number is not known yet, he added.

Meanwhile, Moosehead is working with the provincial government to provide support programs for those who will be laid off, including re-employment counselling, retraining, financial planning and job-search assistance, Oland said.

Bill Farren, a Moosehead employee for 38 years, said he has seen much bigger changes over the years than the cuts announced on Thursday.
The company will also provide wage top-ups for many of the employees who will collect employment insurance, he said.

Moosehead expects to retain 70 to 80 employees, but the exact number won't be determined until planning for the length of day shifts is completed, Oland said.

The President of NB Union-Local 362, Rob Edgecombe, said it will be tough for those who remain.

"It's a somber moment even for the people that are remaining there," he said. "Knowing that people that they've worked with for a number of years are no longer going to be present there come June 2015."

Edgecombe said some workers losing their jobs have 21 years of full-time service.

"They certainly didn't sugar coat anything. I don't think they wanted to give anyone false hope," he said.

Assistance is being provided to the workers with information on education, training and labour.