The Register-Guard: Bartels Packing closes its Eugene operations, lays off 142 employees

1/2 – Bartels Packing closed its Eugene packing plant and Fern Ridge slaughterhouse, laying off more than 140 employees. (Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard)

By Elon Glucklich | The Register-Guard | March 20, 2018

Workers received no warning before the plants were shut down

Bartels Packing has closed its Eugene and Fern Ridge Lake-area slaughterhouse and meat packing operations, costing 142 workers their jobs and shuttering a 120-year-old business.

The firm closed its plants last Wednesday with no warning to employees, according to a letter from president Chris Bartels to laid-off workers, dated two days later.

“As you may know, the recent performance of the company has been disappointing,” Bartels wrote. “We have experienced significant difficulties over the past several months which have caused our business to falter including, among other things, a continuing decline in sales, accumulation of finished goods inventory, the recent and unexpected loss of one of our largest customers, the coming due of our line of credit and a shortage of sufficient working capital necessary to operate as a viable business.”

The company doesn’t anticipate reopening either of its two properties — the slaughterhouse south of Fern Ridge Lake that it owns nor the packing plant off West Seventh Avenue in west Eugene that it leases — Bartels’ letter said.

Messages left at the company weren’t immediately returned. A sign written in Spanish on the packing plant door appeared to direct employees with questions about their paychecks to Bartels’ retail store.

The company has been run by four generations of Bartels. Roots date to 1908, when the first generation of Bartels in America built a slaughterhouse outside of Cottage Grove after moving to the area from Portland.

The company eventually moved to its Eugene and Fern Ridge locations.

The company had been repeatedly fined and even temporarily shut down in recent years over concerns related to inhumane treatment of cattle, as well as environmental concerns over its discharging of wastewater in a ditch that flows into wetlands near Fern Ridge Lake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture shut down the slaughterhouse in late 2016 after an investigation found several instances of Bartels’ employees failing to properly stun cattle with hand-held bolt guns before slaughtering them. The company reopened several weeks later.

Bartels’ Friday letter to employees said company officials were in negotiations to sell the business to at least one potential buyer, but couldn’t reach an agreement.

“We regret that under the circumstances we were not able to provide you with advanced notice of the closings,” Chris Bartels’ letter said. “We believed that giving an earlier notice would have jeopardized our ongoing efforts and precluded us from obtaining new business and finding new financing, as well as our efforts to negotiate and close the sale.”

The letter was included in a Friday federal notice to Bartels employees sent under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a federal labor law that requires most employers with 100 or more workers to give notice 60 days before plant closings and mass layoffs.

The 60-day timeframe includes exemptions, such as when notifying employees might ruin the opportunity for a faltering company to raise capital or secure new business.

Bartels’ letter says the company may rehire a small number of employees to help wind down the business.

Follow Elon Glucklich on Twitter @EGlucklich. Email