February 1, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — An Illinois-based manufacturer of brooms, brushes and mops won the right on Tuesday to purchase the former Specialty Filaments plant out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Burlington, in a deal that could see more than half of the plant’s former employees return to work by this Monday, Feb. 5.
The Thomas Monahan Co. (TMC) of Arcola, Ill., submitted the lone, successful bid of $3.125 million for the 3046 Case St. property in Middlebury, which includes the Specialty Filaments plant and 60 acres.
Specialty Filaments, which had been one of the world’s largest makers of filaments for brooms and brushes, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Jan. 11. The closing left 175 people out of work.
But news of the closing traveled quickly to TMC, where executives saw the opportunity to acquire Specialty Filaments and fire it back up.
The Addison Independent first reported on Jan. 29 that the Vermont Economic Progress Council (VEPC) had awarded TMC $758,806 in financial incentives in its bid to acquire and reopen Specialty Filaments.
In a further attempt to strengthen their position, TMC executives hammered out a new three-year contract with Local 2624, the union that represents Specialty Filaments workers.
In the end, TMC submitted the only bid for the Middlebury property, though an Austrian-base firm — Lenzing Plastics GmbH — made an eleventh-hour offer to hammer out a collaborative agreement with TMC.
“(Lenzing) made a term offer, but it didn’t fit in with our future plans,” said Tim Monahan, chairman of the TMC board of directors.
Plans call for 50 percent to 60 percent of the former Specialty Filaments workforce to return to work as soon as Feb. 5, according to Local 2624 Union leader Barry Whitney. Employment would then ramp up to 80 percent of the former workforce within two to three weeks, with additional workers hired as needed.
“We’re very happy that we came to an agreement and that Thomas Monahan Co. was successful in getting court approval to buy Specialty Filaments and reopen as soon as this Monday,” Whitney said.
“It’s a miracle.”
Whitney said the three-year pact preserves good wages, health benefits and dental assistance for workers. On the other hand, employees had to make some concessions on the quality of their health care package; sick days; and vacation time.
While union members voted overwhelmingly (88-16) in favor of the new deal, Whitney conceded that all workers were reluctant to give up ground compared to the previous contract.
“We didn’t have a lot of leverage,” Whitney said. “But we are excited we do have a new contract and that we will be going back to work.”
Former employees will be called back in order of seniority and experience, according to Whitney, who worked at Specialty Filaments for nine years.
SMC officials said they will spend the coming days taking inventory of the current Specialty Filaments equipment and manufacturing procedures.
Monahan said he has confidence in the workers he will be bringing back on board, but it’s already clear that some of the company’s machinery will have to be upgraded.
“If the machinery is the issue, we are willing to spend the money,” Monahan said.
He also served notice that the Middlebury plant will have to prove itself profitable if it is to survive in the long term.
“Workers don’t have any security if we can’t make money,” Monahan said. “It’s a team effort.”
Monahan and Whitney credited state officials, the Addison County Economic Development Corp. and the media for helping to bring the deal together so quickly. Gov. James Douglas likewise credited the ACEDC and VEPC for moving quickly once Specialty Filaments closed.