WILLIAMSTOWN -- Steinerfilm Inc. closed its capacitor film manufacturing division on Simonds Road on Monday, terminating 24 positions. Fred Thompson, human resources council for the business, said Wednesday, "The bottom line is there is a global downturn in the [capacitor film] market with no end in site ... this is the last thing Else [Steiner, the company’s owner] wanted to do. But, frankly, and looking at it from a purely financial standpoint, the plant was kept open a year longer than it should have been."
A second plant on Simonds Road is in charge of metalizing the film and remains open. This plant has a larger number of employees who are not unionized. Thompson declined to provide the total number of workers in that division.
The closure means no polypropylene capacitor film production plants remain in the U.S. -- Steinerfilm, founded in 1972, was the last.
Other countries that produce the film include South Korea, India, China and Japan.
Though Thompson and Gary Allard, a former Steiner employee of 32 years, described their product as "the best [capacitor film] in the world," other countries can make it at a far lesser cost.
Of the 24 who lost jobs, 18 were unionized under the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Salaried, Machine and Furniture Workers/ Communications Workers of America (IUE/CWA), local 81231.
Due to lack of orders, these workers were laid off and collecting
unemployment for over 30 weeks out of 2012. The extremely thin polypropylene capacitor film formerly made at the plant is used in a variety products, such as refrigerators, certain light bulbs and solar panels.
At three-month intervals, the workers would be brought back in for just a week’s time as part of a "handshake agreement" to maintain their health coverage.
Steve Travis, union president of local 81231, said the workers were "pretty much stunned" to receive the news.
"We were expecting to go back anytime now," Travis said. " ...
Instead, the company called a meeting Monday and informed us we would not be coming back to work."
Allard said the last time the workers were called in to take part in this process was October.
"We came back for one week for insurance purposes and were right back out the door after that," he said.
Thompson said keeping the employees on and maintaining coverage in this manner was an expensive undertaking for Steinerfilm.
He called Else, the company’s owner, a "people person" who has "extremely high regard for operators of [the plant’s] machinery."
Additionally, company management has hoped for some time that demand for the film would grow with the nascent electric car market, which has yet to catch on.
The metalizing division workers, already thinned from prior years by attrition, can be maintained for the time being on the existing supply of film, Thompson said. However, hourly rates and future employment are subject to market conditions.