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DuPont shows off investments, employees at Yerkes plant <br> Production of series shifts from South Korea

DuPont's Yerkes plant in the Town of Tonawanda has built on its expertise in Corian, bringing additional production of the solid-surface material here.

---- DuPont for years has made a product series called Corian Private Collection exclusively in South Korea. But DuPont has shifted some production of that series - to supply markets like North America, South America and Europe - to the River Road plant. The Korean plant still makes the Private Collection product for the Asian market.

---- DuPont invested $6 million in the Yerkes plant to support the project. Salah Boussaad, manufacturing technology manager, said the investment was an important step to enable the plant to add even more products.

---- "Part of the upgrade is to really demonstrate that we can make Private Collection here and serve the market," he said. "But this is the base to launch this as the new Corian generation."

---- DuPont employees on Thursday showcased the investment and highlighted the plant's output, safety practices and community involvement at an event for invited guests, including elected officials. The employees had been requesting an opportunity to show what goes on inside the plant, said Ronald Lee, the plant manager.

---- The Yerkes plant has about 600 employees, with production as well as research and development work. The plant makes Corian, which is used in a variety of surfaces including countertops, and Tedlar, a film used in applications such as aircraft and solar panels.

---- Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, called the DuPont plant "exactly the kind of business that New York State wants to have and wants to keep."

---- "When you make things, you send them away and bring dollars back to the community," Schimminger said. "That's what it's all about: exporting products, importing dollars."

---- Family connections are common among employees of the DuPont plant. Some have followed parents or grandparents into the plant. Jeffrey Tucker has been an employee at the location for 38 years, and works there with two of his siblings, Jarvis Tucker and Ramonia Younger. Two of their other siblings used to work there, as well.

---- "My brother and I, when we started, we were at Bethlehem Steel, so it was a good move for us," Jeffrey Tucker said.

---- Younger said the plant emphasizes ongoing learning and education for its workers to keep their skills current.

---- DuPont employees and officials on the tour also emphasized the Yerkes plant's commitment to safety. Lee said the plant has taken more steps after a November 2010 accident in which an employee of a contractor working at the site was killed and another employee of the contractor was badly burned. The plant contested the $61,500 in proposed fines by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, before reaching a settlement under which it will pay $49,000.

---- "We continue to drive improvement around safety," Lee said. "Since the incident, we haven't had another contractor injury to date. We've had a lot of extremely highly complex and complicated work."
---- The plant has researched best practices of other plants around the world and is doing more audits to ensure the plant complies with written procedures and established practices, Lee said.

---- Workers at the plant represented by United Steelworkers Local 6992 are negotiating a new contract with their employer. The workers' previous deal expired in April and more talks are scheduled for July, said Frank Hansen, recording secretary for the local, which represents about 400 workers.

---- Hansen said Thursday's event showed labor and management can work together.

---- "Things have gotten a little bit rough, but sometimes, you know, the sailing gets a little bit edgy before it gets really clear," he said. "Hopefully we're past the rough edge [and] we're into the clear sailing now. I'd like to get us both together at the table, put all these differences behind us and focus on what is truly important."

---- About 20 protesters gathered outside the plant's Sheridan Drive gate, hoping to draw the attention of lawmakers attending the event.

---- The demonstrators, from local labor, worker-safety and environmental groups, were protesting the lawmakers' support for the plant to receive a state jobs tax credit, because they believe the company needs to improve its environmental impact and worker-safety standards.

---- Allison Duwe, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Justice, cited three reasons for protesting against Yerkes receiving the tax credit: She believes the plant lays off workers, has "abysmal" health and safety records, and produces an unsafe level of emissions.

---- "It sends the wrong message for the company to receive a tax break without improving health and safety standards," she said.

---- Peter Ciotta, a Yerkes plant spokesman, said he was not aware of the protestors, and said DuPont Yerkes adheres to appropriate safety and environmental standards.

News Staff Reporter Kathleen Ronayne contributed to this report.?email: