Silberline screen capture

The company expects the closure of the plant at 2010 Guy Brown Drive in Decatur to be permanent and said in the letter it would affect 50 employees.

The facility used to employ more than twice that many union members, according to a Nov. 2 Facebook post on the closing by Local 116a of the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union, AFL-CIO, CLC.

“At one time we were about 110 Union members strong, only to be whittled down to 44 today — 30 employees with seniority ranging from 42 to 20 years and 14 with just a little over 2 years or less,” the post said.

“It breaks my heart to think of the effect on all these families. We all know each other very well. Close friendships.... I know that it will hurt for a while ... but also believe that change will be good for most of us,” it said.

“Our International sub director called me last night to express his concern for us and promised to obtain a list of employers within a close range of our members that are hiring. I will be distributing that information ASAP.”

Union negotiations on the closing and related matters, including the severance package members would receive, began in mid-November.

The first workforce reduction leading to the closing was scheduled to take place sometime during a two-week period starting on Jan. 28, and the remainder were to occur before July, according to the WARN Act notice.

“The company will permanently transfer all work from the facility to other locations as part of its ongoing effort to shrink its geographic footprint and consolidate operations into a smaller number of locations,” it said.

Klatka did not respond to an email or phone calls seeking elaboration on information shared in the WARN Act notice. However, an employee familiar with the consolidation plans who requested anonymity said the work in Decatur would relocate to Pennsylvania.

“Silberline is closing the Decatur plant and keeping the Hometown and Tidewood plants near Tamaqua, Pa. open,” the employee said. “They are planning an expansion on Hometown.”

The company broke ground on the multi-million-dollar, 22,000-square-foot expansion in October with plans to have it completed within nine to 12 months.

Silberline expects to increase the Hometown plant’s workforce by eight employees within the next three years, according to a statement by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

The expansion and new equipment going into it will give Silberline the ability to make pigments compatible with water-borne coating systems, which regulators prefer because they consider them to be more environmentally friendly.

The company expects to be among North America’s largest water-borne compatible aluminum pigment makers after the new manufacturing capabilities come online.

“Silberline is proud to announce the investment in our North American operations to create more environmentally preferred products for our customers,” Gary Karnish, its chief executive officer, said in the statement.

“Our enhanced global footprint will allow us to offer more solutions to our customers’ needs for sustainable methods such as water-borne technology while also doing what’s best for our community and the planet,” he said.

A Silberline website showed its Decatur plant was the only manufacturing facility it was operating in the United States outside of Pennsylvania.

Among its international operations, the company has plants in China. And the employee familiar with its consolidation plans said “the China tariffs played a small role in the decision to close Decatur; the (cost of) raw material used in many grades went up 25 percent.”

A Business Insider roundup of industry testimony on the potential impact of an escalating U.S.-China trade dispute included a paragraph from Lisa Jane Scheller, Silberline’s chair.

“Any additional tariff would result in significant financial strain on our US-based business, threaten jobs and call into question future investment,” it said.

While acknowledging the trade war’s impact on the company’s business, the employee commenting on its consolidation plans said many co-workers questioned management decisions unrelated to trade that they believe contributed to the closing plans.

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