Longtime Janesville manufacturer Hufcor intends to shutter its manufacturing plant on Kennedy Road in Janesville and move those operations, possibly to Mexico.
Meredith Bishop, a spokesperson for Hufcor, told The Gazette in an emailed statement Thursday that the company, known for making accordion-style door systems and portable room partitions, plans to keep its research and development, testing, and customer service operations in Janesville but that the manufacturing division in the city will be relocated.
A representative for the Industrial Division of the Communication Workers of America Local 84811, a labor union that represents some manufacturing workers at Hufcor, also said Hufcor and its private equity parent company, OpenGate Capital, intend to move manufacturing from Janesville to Monterrey, Mexico.
The move would affect about 200 workers. It’s a decision the union intends to fight, regional union representative Richard Shorter told The Gazette this week.
Local union representatives wrote in a letter this week to Hufcor employees that the union plans to bargain over Hufcor’s decision in the coming days.
The union said it plans to “stand against the company’s efforts to end our longstanding relationship with the Janesville community,” but the letter didn’t lay out any specific measures the union plans.
The Gazette obtained copies of the letter Thursday through screengrabs of social media posts and via emails.
Shorter said he wasn’t at liberty to talk about the timeline of Hufcor’s plans to shut down manufacturing in Janesville, but he said the union is bracing for negotiations that could take weeks.
Bishop, the company spokesperson, said Hufcor has suffered “significant negative economic effects” tied to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. and elsewhere in its global footprint, which includes operations in Asia. Bishop wrote that those woes, along with what she called an “aging” manufacturing facility in Janesville, are factors that have put “the future of the entire business in jeopardy.
“Therefore, to ensure Hufcor’s survival and long-term viability, the difficult decision was made to relocate manufacturing to an alternate facility,” Bishop wrote.
An agent at the state Department of Workforce Development said the agency had not received any layoff notices registered by Hufcor as of Thursday.
Hufcor has not publicly said when it will shutter production at the Janesville plant, which covers more than 100,000 square feet, and it has not publicly disclosed where the plant’s operations would move.
The move would end a nearly 120-year run of Hufcor manufacturing in Janesville.
A 2000 Gazette story estimated Hufcor employed about 350 workers. Rock County data from 2019 listed the employee headcount at about 250. It wasn’t clear if that number included part-time workers or positions filled through staffing agencies.
Hufcor operated at various locations in Janesville since 1902 and was initially a manufacturer of porch shades and awnings, woven hammocks, and factory windows with built-in blinds. More recently, Hufcor has specialized in accordion doors and room partitions.
The company has been at its current Janesville headquarters and manufacturing location at 2101 Kennedy Road for about 40 years. Hufcor also has a global manufacturing presence in Germany, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and Australia.
In 2017, Hufcor was acquired by OpenGate Capital, a private equity firm whose leaders said at the time they considered Hufcor a company on the upswing.
OpenGate has come under fire in the past for its handling of companies it has acquired, including its dealings with Waukesha-based Golden Guernsey Dairy. In 2013, OpenGate placed the dairy under bankruptcy protection and shut it down less than two years after buying it, according to reports in the Orange County Register.
The Golden Guernsey plant was shut down so abruptly that workers who showed up at the dairy were locked out and unable to retrieve their tools and other personal belongings, The Gazette reported in a 2017 editorial written shortly after OpenGate acquired Hufcor.
The Orange County Register reported that OpenGate also failed to properly notify Golden Guernsey employees about layoffs and compensate laid-off employees for accrued wages and vacation.
Shorter said Hufcor and OpenGate had told union officials the moveable door market, popular in the hotel and event center industry, had seen a fall-off during the pandemic. He also said union representatives monitoring Hufcor were aware the company had been receiving work-share funding from the state of Wisconsin off and on over the last year to offset pay for some employees who faced hourly cuts.
Despite that, Hufcor had been hiring manufacturing workers and advertising temp-to-hire jobs for $16 an hour through local staffing agencies as recently as January, according to online local job listings.
One longtime line worker at Janesville’s Hufcor plant said their hours had been cut in recent weeks to less than 20 hours a week. That is unusual this time of year, the worker said; in the past, some workers on the line could average 50 or 55 hours a week during late spring.
The employee asked not to be identified, citing concerns of possible retaliation. The worker said they had worked for more than 15 years on different manufacturing lines at the plant.
The last several weeks, the worker said, production and work orders have seemed to dry up. This week, the worker got a note sent from a local union officer that indicated the plant was shuttering.