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Lund Boats lays off 140 workers

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Slumping boat sales - worse than at any time in 40 years - forced a layoff of about 140 workers at the New York Mills Lund Boat manufacturing plant the last two weeks, this according to a Brunswick spokesperson.

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The bulk of layoffs were announced at a meetings with staff on Nov. 4 when 114 employees were let go. Another 30 were reportedly laid off the week before.

Both hourly and salaried employees were among those laid off. There were previously about 400 workers at the New York Mills plant.

The announcement came only days prior to a one-week production shutdown at the plant, which went into effect Nov. 10. The manufacturing halt had been scheduled previously, and such shutdowns have not been uncommon at the plant.

"It's a reflection of the current market and economic conditions," said Dan Kubera, spokesperson for Brunswick Corporation, which is the parent company of Lund Boats. "Like most consumer durables, boat sales have been adversely impacted by the economy."

Kubera couldn't comment on whether or not the layoffs were permanent. However, he said the cutbacks were not a reflection of the NY Mills plant or its workers.

"It is a very well run plant," Kubera said.

One employee, who had worked at Lund for 38 years before being laid off last week, was not optimistic he and others would return to the plant.

"We were told we won't be coming back," he said. "They wouldn't give us a straight answer but I don't expect to go back. And with the economy, that's understandable."

The long-time employee, who asked that his name not be used in this story, is concerned mainly about insurance right now. He was among the 114 laid off Nov. 4 and was told that day that he and others no longer had insurance through the company. Since then, he's been busy trying to find insurance for his family and a program to help pay for his medications.

Who was laid off was reportedly determined by a performance-based evaluations and scoring system, which was conducted by department supervisors. Those that scored the lowest were let go first. This system, which included among other criteria attendance and attitude, led some to speculate seniority did not matter and the evaluation was based more on popularity.

On Friday, representatives from Minnesota Workforce and Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action met with those laid off to answer questions and talk about options with unemployment and insurance.

News of the layoffs quickly spread last week as NY Mills area people went to the polls on election night. With Lund being such a vital part of the local economy talk of the layoffs remained this week.

The subject was briefly discussed at Monday's City Council meeting, with the Mayor Larry Hodgson saying there is no need for overreaction at this point. Hodgson stated, Lund had previously combined the first and second shifts and currently have more working on the first shift than ever before.

The last time Lund had a major layoff was about three years ago when 25 percent, or about 150 employees, were laid off. Most of those positions were eventually filled before these most recent cuts.

Industry-wide, there were fewer boats sold in the United States in 2007 than at any time since the mid 1960's, when sales records began to be kept.

Brunswick's boat sales were down 36 percent in the third quarter, which ended Oct. 1.

Brunswick owns a number of boat brands in addition to Lund. These include Sea Ray, Lowe and Crestliner.

Meanwhile, sale of Mercury marine motors, which Brunswick also owns, were down 21 percent.

"We've been making a number of efforts to reduce costs, and also protect our dealers by reducing the number of boats on inventory," said Kubera.

Temporary "production furloughs" have been implemented at numerous Brunswick plants.

If it is any consolation to the Lund workers and the New York Mills community, fiberglas boat sales are down even more - at 40 percent. Lund is known as the premiere manufacturer of alumium boats - which have not slumped quite as severly.

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