CHARLES Machine Works lays off 225 employees

Wednesday, May 23rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

PERRY, Okla. (AP) _ The largest employer in Perry will lay off 225 full-time employees this week to offset declining sales of its Ditch Witch trenching machines, officials announced Tuesday.

Charles Machine Works Inc. cut 75 temporary and part-time jobs earlier this month, while 75 full-time employees volunteered for early retirement. The plant now has 1,300 jobs, down from 1,700, an all-time high reached last summer.

The company's prime customers _ telecommunications companies _ have laid more lines than they can sell and don't need as many Ditch Witch machines, chief executive David Woods said.

``In the last five years, the telecommunications industry has spent billions building fiber optic lines across the United States. I understand 97 percent of that fiber is still unused _ they call that 'dark fiber,' 5/8'' Woods said.

``These companies were intentionally overbuilding, anticipating demand would get here quickly.''

But it has not and Woods said it may be a year before companies start selling more fiber lines.

A growing demand for wireless telecommunication also affects land line sales.

The layoffs at Charles Machine affect each division, David Lamerton, the human resources director, said.

``We don't anticipate any more reduction in force,'' Lamerton said. ``We feel confident we are aligned and going forward.''

Perry's unemployment rate of about 2 percent should mean that jobs won't be hard to find, said Penny Murrow, executive director of the Perry Chamber of Commerce.

But other companies may not pay as well as the Ditch Witch plant.

``The people laid off here may possibly have to commute to another community,'' Murrow said Tuesday.

Woods said the job cutback is the biggest in the company's history. In 1974, Charles Machine laid off 70 employees, reducing the plant size to 620.

``All our employees, including part-time and temporary workers, are a part of the Ditch Witch family. It is with great reluctance that we make any type of personnel reduction,'' Woods said in a statement.

Woods said the company has stopped using subcontractors so that it can keep jobs at the plant. He also said the company's finances are stable.

``We are not a heavily leveraged company, and our product line is more diverse than it ever has been,'' Woods said.

``We also have one of the strongest, most competitive dealer organizations in the construction equipment industry.''