Community unites to save Winchester jobs

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — “Winchester belongs in New Haven,” said toolmaker Larry Edwards at a community meeting here where Winchester workers, elected officials and Newhallville neighborhood residents joined forces to try to save over 140 union jobs.

On Jan. 17, the company informed the workers the doors would close by March 31. The U.S. Repeating Arms manufacturing plant has been located in the heart of a predominantly African American neighborhood for 160 years. People worked hard here to produce a good-quality product, said 27-year veteran worker David Roy.

The Winchester Citizens Ad Hoc Committee, formed during a six-month strike in 1979, is demanding six months notice as required in the tax abatement agreement with the city. This would give more time to secure a buyer.

Citizens Ad Hoc Committee President Craig Gauthier outlined a platform to keep the plant open, maintain the current workforce and union contract, increase the number of employees, slow down the plant closing and bring back machinery shipped out of state. “This is a very serious community issue,” said Gauthier.

Emanuel Gomez, who worked at the plant from 1946 to 1991, said, “Our tax money helped build this state-of-the-art facility. We cannot afford for this company to pick up and leave this neighborhood dry.”

Alderwoman Alfreda Edwards demanded that the company “bring back what they have taken out of the plant.”

In 1991, the company entered into a tax abatement agreement with the city of New Haven tied to maintaining jobs. The agreement prohibits the relocation of equipment for manufacturing elsewhere. It requires six months notice and full reimbursement, with interest, of abated taxes.

Nevertheless, the company has moved some production to a non-union plant in Columbia, S.C., in recent years. Some Winchester production has also been relocated to Portugal and Japan. During the December holiday shutdown, machinery key to the entire production process was also moved.

USRAC is part of Herstal Group, owned by Wallonia of Belgium.

In contract negotiations last year, management committed to work more cooperatively with the union, International Association of Machinists Victory Lodge 609, to maintain and grow jobs, but failed to do so.

The mayor and the city’s department of economic development are working with the union to seek a buyer to keep the Winchester sporting arms production in New Haven. The Board of Aldermen plans a public hearing on the closing.

“This is an uphill battle,” said toolmaker Edwards. “It is important to keep the heat on the company. We must dig in there.”