ELYRIA — Mayor Holly Brinda is taking her push to save local jobs to the highest levels of government as 3M moves to shutter its Elyria facility where about 150 people work.
The city’s top elected official kicked off her sixth year in office with a plea to President Donald Trump’s administration for help in saving local jobs, especially as possible international factors are at play, she said.
“I followed our new president’s message very carefully,” Brinda said Thursday. “He has certainly made the case for keeping jobs in the United States. In this particular case, 3M has a complicated operation as it relates to sponge production. I have talked to a number of companies in their market. These are plants 3M supplies — 12 plants in seven states. We were initially told the Elyria operations will move to Tonawanda, N.Y. But there have been some concerns among those in the supply chain that the plant will not be able to meet current demand. If that happens, those companies would have to buy from European competitors at a higher cost. So this move has the potential to not just negatively impact Elyria, but also impact sponge makers in seven other states.”
In addition, Brinda said if Tonawanda can’t ramp up production to meet demand, 3M could send that work to plants outside the country.
“3M has not said this, but we know they have plants in Canada and Mexico. It would be a logical next step that the work would go outside the country,” Brinda said. “Our president has said this is exactly what he doesn’t want to see happen.”
In November, the St. Paul, Minn.-based company announced plans to scale back operations in Elyria with an eye toward consolidation at the New York facility by the second quarter of this year.
The Lowell Street facility is 3M’s primary producer of raw cellulose material, which manufacturers purchase to create their own products.
Fanna Haile-Selassie, spokeswoman for 3M, was unavailable to comment Thursday, but in an email Friday, said, “We are still in effects bargaining with the union over severance packages and severance bonuses. 3M will provide outplacement support and other programs to help with the transition. We have also encouraged Elyria employees to apply to openings at other 3M locations, including Tonawanda.”
Scaling back the Elyria plant falls in line with a new focus by 3M on products sold under the 3M Scotch-Brite and O-Cel-O brands to move away from the highly competitive cellulose block material market, which sees heavy European influence.
Less than a month ago, Trump invited 3M CEO Inge Thulin to join his Manufacturing Jobs Initiative, which includes possible sitdowns with the president to discuss business successes and insights into job growth, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Similar invitations went to the heads of companies including Whirlpool, Boeing and U.S. Steel.
“This could be a person the president closely relies on in making policy decisions, and the policies of this company could potentially not necessarily match with what the president is describing,” Brinda said. “We are doing what we can do. We have really trying to be creative.”
Brinda’s correspondences have been with William H. Kirkland in the White House’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. In an email, Brinda describes Elyria and the economic impact of losing 3M. Brinda said Kirkland responded Thursday, and two scheduled a telephone interview for today.
“The negative financial impact alone to the city of 3M leaving is estimated in upwards of $900,000 annually just in water usage and income tax revenue, not to mention the loss to the schools in property taxes,” Brinda wrote. “… The city of Elyria has offered to meet with 3M leadership and offer an incentive package to help their business model become more viable. Thus far, they have not been willing to even explore such an offer. As Mayor of Elyria, Ohio, I am requesting assistance from the Trump administration to negotiate with 3M to keep the plant open. If they refuse to keep it open, at the very least I am hoping they will be willing to entertain other options to relieve the negative economic impact to our city.”
Brinda said the conversation scheduled today is progress.
“Well, at least he is opening to talking to me,” she said.
Brinda said she could not disclose the nature of her talks with 3M because she signed a confidentiality agreement.
“All I can say is Elyria presented a number of options for the company’s consideration,” she said.
3M does not have any current tax incentives from the city, Brinda said.
Union leadership representing employees at 3M’s Elyria plant said efforts to keep the plant open through collective bargaining are up in the air.
“The company threw down their best and final offer. I can not talk about it as it is under legal review and it will then go up for a membership vote,” Carlos Ginard, communications director at CMRJB Workers United, said in an electronic message. “The membership is sad and disappointed with 3M and with the lack of action from the Trump administration, especially when we know that Inge Thulin sits on the president’s task force to keep jobs in America. Senator (Sherrod) Brown and the mayor have contacted the president for help, but nothing concrete has come out of it.”
Union members also have a message for the president. In a YouTube video published last month, a parade of workers spoke directly to Trump.
“We are American workers at 3M Elyria, Ohio. We are the workers that can make America great again… We have heard you say you want to make America great again. You can start by keeping American jobs in America. If Americans do not have jobs, we will never be great again.”
According to Brown’s office, the Cleveland Democrat spoke to President Trump on the phone and asked directly for his help keeping these jobs in Ohio.
“Senator Brown’s staff has had multiple conversations with the workers, the company and the White House and we are continuing to talk with the administration,” spokeswoman Rachel Petri wrote in an email. “Senator Brown will continue fighting to keep these jobs in Ohio.”
On Tuesday, Brown wrote to Thulin to voice objections to the plan to shift jobs out of Ohio and possibly the country.
“The closure of the Elyria factory comes just a year after the company’s decision to shutter 3M’s Milford, Ohio, facility. To date, more than 200 Ohio workers have been laid off by your company,” Brown wrote. “The news of these plant closures is made worse by the fact that the Milford production has been sent to Mexico. There are reports that at least part of the work at the Elyria plant will be off-shored to Mexico as well.”
In addition, Brown said 3M has only given his office the reason of “environmental problems” to describe why the Elyria plant is closing. He asked for a more comprehensive answer.
“The workers deserve to know why their plant is being closed and where their jobs are going,” Brown wrote.
Brown said such corporate moves “places profits over people.”
“When companies such as 3M focus solely on maximizing profits, they ignore the costs of their business decisions to our workers and our communities,” he wrote.
Losing 3M would be another blow to the manufacturing base in Elyria, which already is bracing for the losses of Riddell in June and Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, which employ roughly 450 and 550 workers, respectively. While 3M maintains the company has made no final decision, employees will be eligible for severance packages or new positions at other 3M facilities.