As expected, Vestas Wind Systems laid off more employees Thursday at its Weld County blade factories.
The company never reports absolute numbers, but stated that it laid off 10 percent of the remaining 1,100 workers in Colorado, just a month after warning that it would be laying off 2,000 more people worldwide this year.
Rick Hohnstein, 62, of Greeley was called into the Windsor plant along with about 80 employees at 6 a.m. Thursday to hear the news. Officials had already packed up the employees lockers, and brought their belongs to them in bags.
“Morale has been bad,” Hohnstein said. “We knew something was happening long before yesterday.”
The company reported last month in its annual earnings reports that it was preparing for a difficult 2013 — in fact, just as challenging as it was in 2012, when the company carved about 4,000 employees from its workforce.
“Vestas now stands much better prepared to handle even a very large challenge and still generate a profit,” wrote company president Ditlev Engel in Vestas’ 2013 outlook in January. “There are still rough seas ahead, but the ‘supertanker’ has become lighter and more maneuverable.”
Last year, Vestas cut roughly 500 jobs in Colorado, about 300 of which came out of its Weld County plants. The goal was to get down to 18,000 employees worldwide. But by the end of the year, the company announced it would need to reduce its employee base down to 16,000 to stay afloat through 2013.
Hohnstein said he’s not sure the cutting in Weld is done. But for now, the company reports, no other employees are affected by the cuts, especially in the Brighton nacelle plant and the Pueblo tower factory, where the company is adding 100 employees to work with a third party company to supply towers for other north American wind projects.
Earlier this year, the company cut employee hours, but began a work-share program with the state Department of Labor and Employment, in which unemployment insurance would make up the difference in pay to ensure a 40-hour paycheck. Such programs are contingent upon the company eventually returning employees to full-time work. Vestas stated that program will end today, and all remaining employees will go back to 40 hours a week.
“Vestas knew the late timing of the federal production tax credit extension would result in a significant reduction in 2013 installations relative to previous years, due to the time it takes from when an order is placed to when the project begins,” the release stated. “However, the U.S. market will nonetheless be stronger as a result of the PTC extension. We are confident that orders will be placed and delivered from our U.S. factories. The extension of the PTC did not affect our projections to deliver between 4 to 5 GW worldwide this year and to employ no more than 16,000 people globally by the end of 2013.”
Hohnstein said that company officials said there have been no American orders for turbines at all this year.
Vestas’ four Colorado factories will continue to manufacture wind turbine components for the U.S. market, as well as export to Canada and Latin America, the release stated.
As for Hohnstein, he said he’s just “OK” with the news. He at once welcomed it after watching roughly 300 get laid off last October, and see people with families having to hunt for work just before Christmas. Morale at the factory hasn’t been the same since, he said. On Thursday, reality set in. He’ll now start beating the streets for a new job.
“I’m actually pretty good,” Hohnstein said. “It’s better now that I know. The not knowing has been hanging over us for four months. Now, we’re done, we can move on.”
Hohnstein said employees were given severance packages of a week’s pay for every year they had been with the company, and three months paid insurance. He said they were told the check was in the mail.
Vestas now stands much better prepared to handle even a very large challenge and still generate a profit.
— Ditley Engel, president of Vestas