August 27, 2014

Elyria
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Invacare cuts 143 Elyria jobs

Invacare Corp. announced Thursday that 143 workers would lose their jobs. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

ELYRIA — One of Elyria’s largest manufacturers has cut 40 percent of its workforce, a layoff of 143 workers just days after Christmas.

Invacare Corp., the international manufacturer and distributor of home and long-term care medical products headquartered in Elyria, announced Thursday that it was reducing the workforce at its Taylor Street facility by 143 employees effective immediately.

The reduction is being blamed on a decline in production as a result of a consent decree between Invacare and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which was approved late last week by the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The decree says Invacare will stop manufacturing, designing and distributing manual and powered wheelchairs and components at its Elyria facilities until certain standards are met. It was signed by Invacare’s top executives and approved by a federal judge.

“While we regret having to take this step, we recognize the need to align our workforce with our production volume,” Gerry Blouch, Invacare president and CEO, said in statement. “We value and respect the hard work that our associates demonstrate on a day-to-day basis, and we will provide assistance to those affected to help them with the transition. We remain committed to achieving full regulatory compliance and to resuming full operations at Taylor Street as quickly as possible. Over the past year, we have made significant investments of time, people and resources to achieve regulatory compliance and make Invacare’s Taylor Street manufacturing facility an even stronger operation.”

The consent decree outlines issues the FDA has had with Invacare before finally working out the terms of the agreement.

According to the complaint, the FDA said it “repeatedly warned” Invacare of violations in 2003 and November 2009.

According to the document, “(Invacare) made promises to correct their violations in written responses to the August 2011 inspections, dated August 29, September 15, September 29, and October 28, 2011. None of these responses contained adequate evidence that (Invacare) have corrected their deviations.”

Violations noted during the August 2011 inspection were directly related to the manufacture of powered wheelchairs at Invacare’s Taylor Street facility, according to the FDA, including Invacare’s failure to “establish and maintain adequate procedures for implementing corrective and preventive action” and failure to “ensure that all personnel are trained to adequately perform their assigned responsibilities.”

The consent decree has been in progress for at least the last year.

Lara Mahoney, Invacare spokeswoman, said the consent decree went into effect Dec. 21.

In preparation, she said employees were sent home Dec. 20 and told not to return until Wednesday or Thursday. During that time, production was suspended and a complete inventory was taken of the Elyria facility.

Production resumed Thursday.

“We now have to be operating under the terms of the consent decree,” she said. “Now, everything that leaves the building will have to have additional customer documentation.”

However, employees said when they returned just one day after Christmas they were handed a notice informing them of when they could return the next day to meet with company officials. Upon returning the next day, the 143 employees were notified they were being laid off.

The cuts were detailed in a letter that went to affected employees. Employees will receive a lump-sum payment equal to 60 days’ pay as well as a continuation of benefits for the next 60 days.

“If you have not been recalled to work following 60 days from this notice, your employment with Invacare will be terminated,” the letter said.

Many employees who received Thursday’s notice had more than 15 years of seniority.

A 16-year veteran, Bonnie Napier, said she was laid off. She was an assembler in the plant.

Invacare has said there is a chance employees will be called back , but Napier is not taking any chances.

“Personally, I’m going to be looking, but with many of the workers older than 45, it’s going to make it hard,” she said.
Mahoney said seniority was not a factor in who was laid off or who remained .

“People selected to stay were chosen based on individual skill set,” she said.

Mahoney said she could not discuss what needs to happen in Elyria for employees to be called back.

“We just don’t know at this point,” she said.

But she maintains Invacare is committed to the Elyria plant and the facility is in no danger of closing.

“We will emerge from this, and it’s going to be a stronger operation because of all of the improvements we are making,” she said.

Invacare employed 365 hourly employees at the Taylor Street facility before the cuts. Mahoney said the remaining 222 employees will either keep their jobs or be reassigned to other jobs in the facility.

Now that the consent decree has been finalized, Mahoney said Invacare will need a series of third-party audits to comply with quality-control regulations. Two audits are under way.

Mahoney said the layoffs and the company’s decision to sell its domestic medical supplies business, Invacare Supplies Group, were coincidental.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.