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TOWN TO BE HIT HARD BY FISHER-PRICE CLOSING IMPACT STUDY SHOWS MEDINA WILL LOSE $37 MILLION IN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY

For every one job Fisher-Price plans to eliminate at its plant here, another two positions will be lost in the regional economy -- primarily at stores, restaurants and other businesses that rely on the toymaker and its employees for their livelihood.

That's the conclusion of an economic impact study released Thursday by a union group that is trying to keep open the sprawling Fisher-Price factory on Parker Avenue. Most of the complex is set to close in June, with 700 of 950 workers receiving pink slips.

"These people, their children and their grandchildren will be affected by this," Bill Ferguson of the United Auto Workers said, pointing to a handful of Fisher-Price workers who attended an afternoon press conference.

Most employees aren't applying for the 250 jobs that will remain in Medina at a new plant, established last year to make outdoor play equipment. Several described the new work as undesirable. It involves heavy lifting, longer hours and working in hot temperatures, they said. As a result, only about 90 people have submitted job applications.

A Fisher-Price spokeswoman confirmed the "poor response" to the openings, and said that people will have to be hired from outside the company.

Pat Daluisio plans to retire rather than work in the new roto-molding operation used to make plastic toys.

"I'm going to leave," she said, "but I worry about the people who are in their mid-40s and 50s, and are too young to retire. I wouldn't want to work in that new factory."

Ms. Daluisio, a 21 1/2 -year employee, is angry that Fisher-Price and its parent company, Mattel Inc. of California, are moving her job and those of her friends to Mexico, Asia and other parts of the United States.

On Thursday, Ms. Daluisio read an open letter to John W. Amerman, Mattel chairman and chief executive officer.

"You have changed my life . . . (and) you have affected my family. You don't care about my town or the surrounding communities," she said. "How can you consider yourself a company that cares?"

Ms. Daluisio is just one of more than 2,000 people who will lose their jobs directly or indirectly because of the Medina plant closing.

The economic impact study predicts there will be $37 million less in annual economic activity after the factory closes. The shops and restaurants that line Medina's historic Main Street, as well as companies throughout Orleans County and neighboring counties will be less busy due to fewer people with good-paying jobs.

Businesses will get smaller and/or close, leading to a loss of 1,398 additional jobs.

Tom Kandris, owner of the Country Club Family Restaurant, expects he will have to lay off cooks and waitresses. Thirty percent of his receipts come from Fisher-Pricers, working mainly on the second and third shifts. He explained that the Medina diner no longer will be open all hours, every day of the week.

"As the single largest employer in the county, Fisher-Price's work force reduction represents a dramatic and negative turn in the region's fortunes," said Mary Ann Coyle, a University at Buffalo graduate student who wrote the impact study. Her work was supported by the Coalition for Economic Justice, based in Buffalo.

"The decline of manufacturing industry in the region makes it unlikely that the Fisher-Price employees will find re-employment in that industry," Ms. Coyle said.

Most of the displaced will work in retail and service-related businesses, if they can secure employment. She said these new jobs will pay $13,000 less than the average Fisher-Price salary of $23,896. Some people will move away, further reducing the population.

About 10 percent of the jobless will exhaust their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits and be forced to go on welfare. "The personal trauma of job loss translates quickly into community trauma," Ms. Coyle said.

The UB student relied on U.S. and New York State government data to write the economic impact report. Her research found that the effects of Medina plant shutdown reach far beyond Western New York.

The factory's suppliers will cut 12,460 jobs from their payrolls and eliminate $300 million worth of wages. The reduced consumer spending and business activity, in turn will take $1.3 billion a year out of the economy, Ms. Coyle explained.

Alarmed by the potential economic fallout, the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union is launching a campaign to stop Mattel/Fisher-Price.

Stephen L. Miller Sr., an organizer for the Machinists, said his union and others have planned a demonstration April 8 in front of Fisher-Price's headquarters on Girard Avenue in East Aurora. About 600 people are expected to attend the event, which starts at 10:30 a.m.

In corporate America, "greed has taken the place of concern, patriotism and loyalty to American citizens," Miller said.

"This country is made up of workers. And they have been abused and manipulated for the last two decades. We want to make the American public aware of what Mattel/Fisher-Price is doing in Medina, N.Y.," he added.

Miller stopped short of calling for a national Mattel/Fisher-Price toy boycott.

Fisher-Price spokeswoman Carol M. Blackley said Mattel/Fisher-Price will not cancel the Medina plant closing, but the giant toy manufacturers have attempted to lessen its impact.

Severance and early-retirement offers have been made to the affected employees, as well as assistance in finding new employment. She reiterated that the toy companies have excess manufacturing space, and that the Medina facility is closing because it is antiquated and costly to operate.

Fisher-Price appreciates the dedication and high productivity of its employees, Ms. Blackley said, and the shutdown is not a reflection on their work ethic.

"It's time to work together, and to seek new job opportunities for our employees," she said.

"Our focus right now is on the outdoor play equipment operation. We want to make it work and see that it's competitive," she added.

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