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No Happy Holidays at Holcim?

Nov 19, 2010 11:32 am

Doron Tyler Antrim of The Daily Mail reported earlier this week that
Cement producer Holcim, formerly known as St. Lawrence Cement, is "temporarily" cutting 70 hourly positions at its Catskill plant effective until January, according to a Tuesday, Nov. 16 announcement from Plant Manager Deon van den Berg. The layoffs will affect 65 workers — nearly two-thirds of the Catskill plant's current workforce — and five others on short-term disability or workers compensation. The recent layoffs were the second such action taken by Holcim in as many years. In May 2009, 35 workers were temporarily laid off. Two months earlier 26 positions were eliminated.

“The reason for this temporary layoff include slow market conditions, the normal seasonal slowdown in construction and escalating costs,” van den Berg said in an e-mail to members of the Holcim Community Advisory Committee, a regular gathering of local leaders and plant officials. Dennis Smith, an equipment operator and chairman of the local International Brotherhood of Boilermakers union, said in an e-mail that the layoffs are effective until Jan. 3, “but could be longer.” Earlier this year, Smith said layoffs and combining of responsibilities have contributed to worsened safety at the facility — a charge that plant management has denied.

An analysis of federal records compiled by the Mine Safety and Health Administration, however, show the Catskill plant has been hit with more than 300 safety violations since Holcim took over in 2008 — 97 of which were deemed serious enough to cause injury or illness. Fines levied with the violations totaled more than $493,000.

The records show in March 2009 the plant was forced to take workers off the job for failing to provide them with the minimum eight hours of annual refresher training. The violation came with an $18,000 fine.

Holcim is a major financial backer and sponsor of several local events, including the recent Festival of Trees, the Athens Street Festival, the Cat’n Around Catskill street art project and the Catskill Spring Rush triathlon.

Holcim (U.S.) Inc. owns 10 cement plants around the country and employs 2,200 workers. Its Swiss parent company, Holcim Ltd., is one of the world’s largest cement manufacturers and suppliers of crushed stone, sand and gravel and recently announced that its third-quarter profit was $561 million, down 19 percent from the same period last year.

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