Local News

ConAgra announces layoffs in wake of explosion

Posted September 16, 2009
Updated September 18, 2009

— ConAgra Foods announced Wednesday evening that it will lay off about 300 employees as a result of a fatal explosion at its Garner plant.

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The June 9 explosion at the facility caused part of the building's roof to collapse, killing three workers and sending dozens of others to the hospital. Investigators believe contractors installing a water heater vented natural gas inside the building, leading to the blast.

Production capabilities were reduced by about 50 percent as a result of the explosion, Dave Jackson with ConAgra said in a statement Wednesday.

The layoffs are scheduled for mid-November.

“It’s not something that we wanted to do and it's difficult but necessary to ensure the long-term health of this business and this plant here in Garner,” ConAgra spokeswoman Stephanie Childs said.

Childs also said that the plant will stop paying employees who are not working while recovering from blast injuries. However, those employees will be able to apply for workman's comp benefits.

Starting in two weeks, the company will also revert back to its regular payroll policy based on the number of hours worked. Since the explosion, the company had been providing full pay and benefits to all workers.

The decision regarding which employees will be laid off will be determined based on seniority and production needs as governed by the terms of ConAgra union contract, Jackson said.

“I’m looking at it thinking, yeah, I’m going to be one of those people (let go),” ConAgra employee John Henry said.

Henry, who works in the plant’s packing area, said he fears he will be among those laid off since he has been with the company less than two years.

“It’s nothing to worry about. It’s going to happen. Not much you can do about it. It’s a good thing they kind of gave us some notice,” Henry said.

About 300 employees were in the Jones Sausage Road plant at the time of the explosion, which blew out a wall and punched holes in the roof, sparked small fires and ruptured the plant's ammonia lines.

Dozens of workers and contractors were injured, and three workers – Barbara McLean Spears, 43, of Dunn; Rachel Mae Poston Pulley, 67, of Clayton; and Louis Junior Watson, 33, of Clayton, – were killed.

George Williams, a longtime employee of ConAgra, said the layoffs are another painful setback for employees who returned to work at the plant July 19.

"It’s a hurt, it's a loss,” Williams said. “By losing so many people, (those who) got hurt and stuff ... it’s a family. But it's a family that's been split.”

Mayor Ronnie Williams also expressed sadness over the layoffs.

”I’m disappointed and sad by the news. But there’s an upside here that the company is keeping about 400 jobs and interested in staying in Garner and rebuilding the plant and getting these folks back to work," Williams told WRAL News.

The plant currently employs approximately 750 employees in Garner.


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  • NeverSurrender Sep 17, 2009

    "At least they gave them some warning so they can start looking for other work. Some companies tell you and immediately you are gone. They have done the best they can with the situation. Stuff happens, folks. Build a bridge and get over it already! Do something to help yourself."


    Given the size of the layoff relative to the workforce (> 25%), they had no choice to comply with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice Act.

    The Act provides that the employer must notify affected workers of an impending layoff sixty days in advance of the action or pay the employees a day's wages for each day they did not get the required notice.

    Notice that the layoffs are scheduled for mid-November...that's your sixty-day warning period right there.

    I will agree that ConAgra has appeared to bend over backwards to accommodate the displaced workers but this action was hardly unanticipated when the plant blew sky high months ago.

  • dugmeister Sep 17, 2009

    My wife was laid off from her job -- where is her news story? I can say that Pharmerica (her former employer) certainly did not treat the employees they let go with this type of consideration.

  • Garnerwolf1 Sep 17, 2009

    "Not a good decision from the head office." Sorry, but ConAgra's not like Obama - they can't just expect somebody else to pay the bills. Did any of you honestly NOT think this was going to happen at some point? I feel for those that will be laid off, but at the end of the day, this was pretty much all that could happen.

  • Professor Sep 17, 2009


  • Journey985 Sep 17, 2009

    While I agree that this is a sad event for an already bad situation, as beachbloater stated, "They have been paying all employees full salaries and benefits since this happened" And thus far ConAgra has kept every word they have made, so if they say they are going to stay in Garner, rebuild, and bring those people back to a safer plant, then I would have to say they will. Hopefully all those laid off will get enough unemployment or workmans comp. to get them through until the rebuilding is complete. Good luck to all!!

  • Shaw Bears 95 Sep 17, 2009

    what do some of these employees and people want. They aren't looking at the BIG picture the company can use only 50% of the plant and if they aren't in full 100% working power why keep all 700 employees there. This comapany has been more than good to these folks. Some (I said some not all) are been inconsiderate people, they acting like this company is putting them out of work for fun. Some companies wouldn't had done half of what this company did. I know it's easier said than done but just take your pink sheet and move on and trust god.

  • Sick N Tired Sep 17, 2009

    hihuwatlu...I agree!

    At least they gave them some warning so they can start looking for other work. Some companies tell you and immediately you are gone. They have done the best they can with the situation. Stuff happens, folks. Build a bridge and get over it already! Do something to help yourself.

  • They call me CATMAN Sep 17, 2009

    hihuwatlu I right on the money the plant is only at best 50% capacity. ConAgra has been more then Generous in the way they have treated their employees. I am sad for the people that will lose their job's but how long do you pay people who are not working full salary and benefits.

  • beachboater Sep 17, 2009

    hihuwatlu hit the nail on the head. Con-Agra has been paying everyone full salary since July, even those not working? Producing half, probably only needing half to work, paying all.

    Sounds like a pretty darn good company to me.

  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM Sep 17, 2009

    Hmm, ok I have about as much sympathy for their layoffs as they do for the other thousands of people that have been laid off this year. Who cares they are being laid off because of economic troubles, next story please... this will only hurt them (ConAgra) because magically all these people will have work related injuries now.