Nova Scotia

Truro workers in a 'state of shock' after layoff notices

Employees at a Truro carpet plant say they're trying to figure out what comes next after their employer announced it will be moving operations to the U.S.

240 lost jobs will be 'a trial for everybody,' says union rep

Deb Cock has been working at the Truro carpet plant for 33 years. (Robert Short/CBC)

It was a sombre mood at a Truro, N.S. carpet plant on Wednesday, a day after 240 employees found out they'll be out of work by mid-July.

Tarkett North America announced it will be moving production to its Tandus Centiva carpet manufacturing facility to Dalton, Ga., leaving its staff in the central Nova Scotia town devastated and wondering what lies ahead for them.

"They're just walking around in a stunned state in there," said Deb Cock, the unit chairperson for Unifor Local 4612, which represents the plant's workers. "Not a whole lot of work getting done."

Working at the carpet plant is somewhat of a family affair for her. Her father began working there when she was five before he retired in the early 2000s. 

Cock then began working with the company, then known as Crossley Carpets, when she was 23. More than three decades later, she didn't imagine that this was how her career with the plant would end.

For now, she said she's not thinking about herself — turning her attention instead to the union members, trying to ensure they have everything they need to cope over the next few weeks.

"I haven't been able to think about my own situation," she said. "Because if I do, I just lose it."

The plant is expected to shut its doors on July 16.

'They don't know anything else'

Cock said the imminent closure would be "a trial for everybody." 

While she's concerned about the younger workers at the plant as well, she said she's especially worried about the older ones who may not have applied for a job in decades.

"We have people who've been working here since they were 16 years old. They don't know anything else," said Cock.

Melissa Martell, local president of Unifor Local 4612, said it might be a struggle for some staff to find work that paid as well as the plant did. She said she makes about $18 an hour.

"We're making really good money for Truro, so it's been a huge cut," she said. "It's definitely going to be hard to find something like that around here."

Melissa Martell said both she and her spouse work at the plant, so both are affected. (Robert Short/CBC)

Martell described a scene of "crying and consoling" when staff first got the bad news, saying staff are now in "a state of shock."

"There's a lot of people that are close, close to retirement. One, two years, even a couple months. This is really going to affect them a lot," said Martell. 

"And this is a family-oriented business, and my spouse works in there as well. So that's both our incomes that are cut by this."

An "extremely difficult" decision

A spokeswoman for the company said the decision was "extremely difficult" and was not reflective of the work being done in Truro. She said it was in response to changing demands in the industry.

"With the majority of the product that's being made here in Canada being shipped down to the United States, logistically, and from a cost perspective, the decision was made to relocate operations," said Bridget Burgess, who works for National Public Relations. The PR firm has been hired by Tarkett during this "difficult time," she said.

Burgess said the company will help its employees with skill-building opportunities, and will follow through with its commitment to provide pensions and severance to laid-off workers.

"Tarkett is committed to fulfilling its obligations, its pension requirements, and the obligations under the Industry Closure Act of Nova Scotia," she said.

The carpet plant has been a fixture of Truro for decades. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education said it has reached out to both the company and its staff to plan information sessions in the coming days to explain available supports.

"A transition team will be assembled and will work with the employer and impacted workers to support their job search and build their skills while they look for work," said spokeswoman Shannon Kerr in an email. 

"This team will also help employees navigate the EI process, especially in the short term."

She noted there are resources through Nova Scotia Works centres for people who have lost their jobs.

According to Nova Scotia Business Inc., the company has no outstanding loans to the government. 

Spokesman Shawn Hirtle said Crossley Carpets received an income bond of $14,831,331 from the province in 1991. 

Then, in 2003, it got an Industrial Expansion Fund investment of $700,000. A year later it received a six-year, performance-based payroll rebate, earning a total of $1.4 million against the maximum of $2.8 million.

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With files from Jean Laroche

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