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Timken forced to trim 60 from payroll

The dramatic worldwide economic decline has forced the Sylvania Timken plant managers to layoff approximately 60 more associates by the end of February.

After this group of layoffs, the needle bearing plant now will employ approximately 400, according to company officials.

Plant manager David Burke declined to comment on the layoffs. He instead referred all questions to Lorrie Paul Crum, the manager of Global Media & Strategic Communications for the Timken Company, headquartered in Canton, Ohio.

Crum said the difficult decision to layoff employees reflects the state of the overall economy, and the broad-based, global declines in the company’s automotive and industrial markets.

“(The Sylvania) managers have employed a number of measures at the facility to minimize the impact on associates: offering voluntary time off, early retirements, weekly on/off rotations and extra shutdown weeks to align to lower demand,” Crum said. “The adjustment is a real-time response to current market conditions.”

In the event of recovery, Crum said Sylvania plant officials would initiate call-backs, usually based on seniority.

She said the layoffs were split over the plant’s three shifts of employees.

“This has been really tough on the managers,” Crum said. “They absolutely hated to deliver this news at this time. This is something that has been unpleasant.

“The hope is we soon will see some sort of recovery, but we don’t know when that will be,” she said. “We just don’t have the vision to know when it will get better.”

In preparation for an improved economy, plans at the Sylvania plant and throughout the Timken Company have been made on how to respond when the demand returns, Crum said.

The Sylvania plant produces some parts that are used in automotive, which has been stricken with hardships. In Sylvania, some of the bearings that are produced go into transmissions, wheels and steering columns.

“Automotive has been struggling for some time. It is a world-wide crisis,” said Crum of an industry that has been in a slump for the last seven years.

Timken, Crum said, took notice of the decline in automobile sales and adjusted its product lines to include more aerospace, other mobile, and agriculture divisions.

Because of those preventive changes, Timken remains of solid ground, she said.

“If we had not taken the steps in 2002, we would be in dire straits,” Crum said. “Our company diversified.

“We are in excellent financial condition, especially in profits and cash,” she said. “We wouldn’t accept any bailout. You really can’t rely on one industry.

“A year ago, we had peaked,” Crum said. “We had a record year in 2008. It was our best sales earnings ever.”

Then the outlook became much different.

“But it happened in November. We saw orders fall off the cliff,” Crum said. “What we saw this past year -- it was sharper.”

The crisis reaches beyond the United States.

“It goes around the world. We make our products to serve our countries,” Crum said. “It is widespread and so global. We have to make moves all around the world. Is it across the board? ‘Yes.’ Is it global? ‘Yes.’”

Crum said plant managers in Sylvania and company-wide are rather unaccustomed to laying off employees since Timken remains a strong industry.

“For our managers, this is mostly a first,” she said. “We very much look to an end so we can welcome our employees back.”

In a Nov. 20 article published in the Sylvania Telephone, Burke, the plant manager, told the newspaper that a downward turn in automakers’ vehicle sales had affected Timken and other suppliers, noting that gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon during the summer.

Burke said business had been down 20 percent since the first of 2008.

“We are down 90 associates since the middle of this year, but we still are employing 467 associates which is good. We’ve still got 467 good employees,” Burke said three months ago.

The loss of the 90 associates last year was done over time, not all at once, Burke said.