Patterson Vegetable plant operations shut down
by Nick Rappley | Patterson Irrigator
Jun 22, 2012 | 4298 views | 6 6 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mary Victoria, a 30-year employee of the Patterson Vegetable Company, leaves her job for the last time after the 66-year-old plant shut its doors for good on Friday, June 22, 2012. Prior to the company changing ownership in 2007 Victoria said she "used to love coming to work every day. But after it was sold in 2007, it was never the same again." 
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
Mary Victoria, a 30-year employee of the Patterson Vegetable Company, leaves her job for the last time after the 66-year-old plant shut its doors for good on Friday, June 22, 2012. Prior to the company changing ownership in 2007 Victoria said she "used to love coming to work every day. But after it was sold in 2007, it was never the same again." Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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Patterson Vegetable Company employees clutch their dismissal packets as they leave their jobs for the last time on Friday, June 22.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
Patterson Vegetable Company employees clutch their dismissal packets as they leave their jobs for the last time on Friday, June 22. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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Patterson Vegetable Company employees read through their dismissal packets after walking out the doors of the 66-year-old company for the last time on Friday, June 22.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
Patterson Vegetable Company employees read through their dismissal packets after walking out the doors of the 66-year-old company for the last time on Friday, June 22. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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Looking out at first street on their last day of work, long-time Patterson Vegetable Company employees Steve Partlow, left, and Martin Guerrero discuss declining negotiations which ended in the company's closure last Friday, June 22.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
Looking out at first street on their last day of work, long-time Patterson Vegetable Company employees Steve Partlow, left, and Martin Guerrero discuss declining negotiations which ended in the company's closure last Friday, June 22. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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After 46 years of employment, Patterson Vegetable Company's senior employee Carol Utz says goodbye to her "boys", from left to right,  Candelerio Rubio, Alfred Cisneroz, Jose Martinez and Jose Villa, after the company closed its doors for good last Friday, June 22, 2012. Like Utz and many of Patterson Vegetable Company's employees, the men had also worked there for many years. Many of the outgoing employees spoke of the camaraderie and sense of family that came about after decades of employment.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
After 46 years of employment, Patterson Vegetable Company's senior employee Carol Utz says goodbye to her "boys", from left to right, Candelerio Rubio, Alfred Cisneroz, Jose Martinez and Jose Villa, after the company closed its doors for good last Friday, June 22, 2012. Like Utz and many of Patterson Vegetable Company's employees, the men had also worked there for many years. Many of the outgoing employees spoke of the camaraderie and sense of family that came about after decades of employment. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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After 46 years of employment, Patterson Vegetable Company's senior employee Carol Utz says goodbye to Alfred Cisneros, a 26 year employee, after the company closed its doors for good last Friday, June 22, 2012.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
After 46 years of employment, Patterson Vegetable Company's senior employee Carol Utz says goodbye to Alfred Cisneros, a 26 year employee, after the company closed its doors for good last Friday, June 22, 2012. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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A padlock closes off the gate separating Patterson Vegetable Company from West Las Palmas Avenue near the railroad tracks after the company began shutting down on Friday, June 22, 2012.
Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
A padlock closes off the gate separating Patterson Vegetable Company from West Las Palmas Avenue near the railroad tracks after the company began shutting down on Friday, June 22, 2012. Lisa James / Patterson Irrigator
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Patterson Vegetable Co., a centerpiece of Patterson’s economy for more than a half century, ceased production Friday, June 22, and began the process of permanently shutting down the plant Sunday, June 24.

The frozen vegetable processing company’s facility, which was run by Patterson Frozen Foods until 2007, had been continuously running for the past 66 years, leaving nearly 300 full-time employees without work.

“I’m sad. That’s my whole life in there,” said Carol Patterson-Utz, the most senior employee at the plant, having worked there for 46 years, including 11 as a supervisor.

“We’re like family,” she continued. “We help look out for each other. I was going to work another four or five years there if they stayed open.”

Patterson-Utz, who was known as “Tweety” in the plant because of the speed with which she moved and her relatively small size, began her career there right after she graduated from Patterson High School in 1966.

She said she was not ready to retire at age 64, so she is filing unemployment for the first time in her life.

“I can always get a part-time job,” she said. “I get hyper. I have to go, go, go. I feel sorry for the people in their 20s to their 50s who have kids and need to work.”

One employee, who would identify himself only as Carlos, said he was leaving with a union pension after 31 years, but little else.

“They didn’t give us nothing,” he said. “Some companies, when they close, they give something.”

Other employees who are eligible for retirement said they would simply retire rather than look for other work.

Jose Colunga of Modesto said that after 28 years at the plant, he was too old to look for a new job.

Carolina Lopez, who worked 12 years at the plant, said she started looking for a new job in late March when the situation began to look grim.

“I can’t believe this company is bankrupt,” she said.

Noelia Sandoval was uncertain about her future as she stood outside the plant at First Street and Las Palmas Avenue last week.

“There are only 30 people staying to close the plant down,” Sandoval said. “Now I don’t know if there’s employment for me out there.”

Patterson Vegetable CEO Eric Schwartz said only maintenance workers and the last of the shipping workers were working as the plant wound down operations. That amounted to a little more than 40 workers, he said.

“You should see ‘for sale’ signs in the next two weeks,” Schwartz said. “It will be a pretty quick rundown — probably four to eight weeks to wind everything down.”

Schwartz also quashed rumors that the plant would reopen in the fall.

“I wished that was true,” he said. “But we’re not reconsidering. It’s going up for sale.”

Schwartz said in late April that the company would end its operations June 24. The company issued letters April 24 giving employees 60 days’ notice as required by federal law before layoffs. The company previously sent 60-day layoff notices in December, announcing the plant could close.

Citing unsustainable health and retirement costs, the company repeatedly pleaded with employees to vote for concession packages that amounted to millions in wage and benefit cuts to keep its doors open.

The contract with Teamsters Local 948, the union that represents most Patterson Vegetable Co. workers, was set to expire Saturday, June 30. Schwartz said in April that closure was inevitable, as a bankruptcy restructure was too costly and unpredictable.

The company had about 290 full-time, year-round employees, and its staff swelled to nearly 600 during harvest season. As of last year, it was the second-largest employer in the Patterson area, according to figures released in a community profile produced by the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.

The 5-year-old startup company, headed by Fresno-based Woolf Farming Co., bought Patterson Frozen Foods’ frozen vegetable processing plant in June 2007, hiring most of that company’s employees.

Patterson Frozen Foods was founded by brothers and frozen foods industry pioneers Mario and Alfonso Ielmini in 1946. It was the West Side’s largest employer at its peak, with more than 1,000 employees and about 250 million pounds of frozen food processed annually.

Many of the facilities at the 66-year-old plant were badly in need of upgrades in recent years, according to company officials. Schwartz said in December that the only way to pay for those upgrades was through employee concessions.

The company lost more than $10 million during the past three years, according to a worker there.

Teamsters’ officials could not be reached for comment regarding the closure.

• News Reporter Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31 or nick@pattersonirrigator.com.
Comments
(6)
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phatrikk
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June 30, 2012
good...teaches thoes corporate greed companies a lesson.....stop trying to take from the little people...pay for your own repairs...thats the whole thing of running your own business.... and the employees might have lost there jobs..but they are still better off with what the chose. plus...if patterson was so worried about it....then why didnt they help pay for the repairs??? corporate greed.

sandpoet
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August 19, 2013
Haven worked at PFF in the 1970's, I left when the facility was outdated and in need of extensive repair. I was a Refrigeration Operating Engineer, moving up to a salaried management position by 1978. As a businessman, you need to be more informed about business profits. Profits are slim to none in this business. I never once saw the ownership living lavishly; in fact Mario would come to PFF at 8PM in the evening in his 80's.

Unions killed the company. I was making $7.50/hr when minimum wage was below $4.00/hr. I took a salaried position which cut my pay about 25%. But, I was willing to work hard to grow in my career. Working 12 hour shifts, 6 and 7 days a week, going to college part-time served me well. I was a CEO 10 years after I left PFF.

Corporations are what make our goods and services affordable and available. PFF suffered from old technology which was labor intensive and consequent high labor costs. phatrikk, you're an idiot!
no-fool
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June 23, 2012
as being along time employee of PFF/PVC most of us are very sad about the plant closing.We are not the cause. If we did not want to be employed there we would not have stayed for 20,30 and some over 40 years. Most of us would of not been happy with a few cutbacks and would of accepted them to keep our jobs but the company was not satisfied with just alitle they wanted to take everything from us, things that they agreed to when they bought the company. They knew they were buying an old outdated company from the start.They are the ones who wanted to extend our contract till 2012 No one forced them.We have watched them make one bad decision after another, and for them to act like we the employees ran the company to the ground is pathetic.Not one of us union members made any of the business decisions.What is sad is that they would want to screw over loyal employees,and try to lay the blame on us.
stealthcat
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June 25, 2012
Sorry pal, but the Union members decided their own fate by not accepting the company's offer. Plain and simple. I guess the overwhelming majority preferred unemployment to a reduction in pay and benefits. I've seen this before years ago. The union convinced its members to hold out and that the company would eventually fold. Just the opposite happened. The company fired everyone once the deadline passed and hired all new people.

Unions are a menace to the economic health of this country
stephie40
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June 22, 2012
how very sad for all of those employees. what do they do now???
redmt
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June 22, 2012
How very sad for the community. The union helped run the company into the ground and the employee's weren't willing to budge on the benefits. I suppose that sitting home must pay better than giving up a benefit package. That's what's sad.


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