Cape Gazette
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Pickle workers could return to Millsboro

Chicken processor says upgrading Vlasic plant could take a year
By Rachel Swick Mavity | Apr 09, 2013
Photo by: Rachel Swick Mavity Former Vlasic workers who lost their jobs in August could return to Millsboro to process chicken for Allen Harim Foods, which is in the process of purchasing the Iron Branch Road facility.

Former Vlasic employees could return to Millsboro when Allen Harim opens its new chicken processing plant, a union representative says.

Eric Masten of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said the 500 Vlasic workers who lost their jobs when the plant closed in August have found work at various locations around Delmarva.

“Two-thirds of the Vlasic workers went to jobs in the Delaware area; the rest either retired or went to jobs in Maryland,” Masten said. “Since the announcement of Allen Harim coming to Millsboro, we've had a few members contact our office about returning to the Millsboro plant.”

The Vlasic workers found new jobs in part because the state Economic Development Office stepped in to help train them. Masten said union workers will once again receive state help and training when Allen Harim starts hiring for the Millsboro facility.

Based in Seaford, Allen Harim Foods has processing plants in Harbeson and Cordova, Md., and plans to open a new location at the former Vlasic plant. Upgrades to the plant will take more than a year, so the company does not expect to start hiring until 2014, said Alan Levin, state director of economic development.

Jobs will include processing and cooking, and all of the entry-level jobs will make more than minimum wage, Levin said.

“More than $100 million will be spent on the building to convert it from pickles to chicken,” Levin said. “Once they close the deal, then we will meet with the union and Department of Labor to discuss workers.”

The purchase of the building is expected to be finalized this month.

Masten, a Millsboro resident who has been with the union for 33 years, said the union is in talks with Allen Harim to represent workers at the new facility. He said the union can improve wages and the quality of the work environment for the workforce.

“The benefits are much better in a unionized facility because workers have a voice in the workplace,” Masten said. “We represent workers at Allen Harim's Harbeson facility, and they are a great company to work with, so we want to bargain a contract with them for workers coming into the Millsboro plant.”

United Food and Commercial Workers Union's local office is in Millsboro. It represents 5,500 workers on Delmarva including those working for Mountaire Farms in Selbyville, Allen Harim in Harbeson and Ralph and Paul Adams farms in Bridgeville, as well as retail outlets such as Giant Food, Safeway and SuperFresh.

Board of Adjustment to approve change

To complete the transition from Vlasic to Allen Harim, owners must receive approval from the Sussex County Board of Adjustment, but an application will not be made until after the building purchase is finalized, said Sussex County Director of Planning and Zoning Lawrence Lank.

Lank said once the application for a change of use permit is received, the board will set a date for a public hearing.

Elaine Buser, who retired to Bluff Point Drive from Gettysburg, Pa., more than a year ago, said she is opposed to the new plant.

“My concerns are the environment and what this is going to do to our area,” Buser said. “We need to protect the water. There is a two-lane road running through Millsboro – Iron Branch Road – unless they are going to put a road from the plant out to Route 113, it will create havoc with chicken trucks coming to the plant. I am also worried there will be odor from the plant.”

Buser said she wants to raise her neighbors to know about her concerns.

“I am worried about the type of truck traffic. I think Millsboro already has enough plants and pollution that we don't need to have more,” she said.

Allen Harim will discuss entrance permits with Delaware Department of Transportation officials. Because the plant was previously used as an industrial facility, it is unclear if upgrades to the roads will be needed.

“It is too premature to be speaking about traffic impact around the Vlasic plant,” said DelDOT spokesman Mike Tu. “There has not been any discussion yet about building an entranceway to the plant.”

In 2011, when the Vlasic plant was operating, DelDOT counted an average of 4,719 vehicles on Iron Branch Road per day.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary David Small said Allen Harim could produce more wastewater than Vlasic, but he said DNREC is in talks with the poultry company on upgrades that would benefit the Inland Bays.

“There will need to be upgrades to the wastewater treatment system and possibly other infrastructure, depending on the final plans,” Small said. “There could be some [state] assistance depending on the nature of the upgrades, the cost of which are unknown at this time.”

The facility is located in the Inland Bays watershed, which means all operations must meet water-quality regulations, Small said.

“We would expect that facility would meet our rigorous standards for protecting water quality,” he said.

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