Mrs. Paul's Will Close Bucks Site 179 To Lose Jobs At Doylestown Plant

Posted: March 01, 1988

Campbell Soup Co. yesterday said it would close its Mrs. Paul's Kitchens fish-processing plant in Doylestown on Aug. 1 and lay off 179 workers.

At a meeting with employees and their families at the American Legion Hall in Doylestown yesterday, Mrs. Paul's president William Dowd said Campbell decided to close the plant instead of making the "enormous expenditures" needed to upgrade the facility.

Dowd also blamed the closing on continued environmental concerns raised by Doylestown Borough officials and local residents.

"Most of these concerns have been minimized in the recent past by expenditures on the part of Mrs. Paul's," Dowd said in a statement released by Campbell. "However, additional company funds would be required to meet all of the concerns of the community."

Campbell intends to shift production from the Doylestown plant, which produces fish fillets and fish sticks, to Mrs. Paul's operations in Crisfield, Md., where 200 people work, and Tabor Road in Northeast Philadelphia, where about 500 people work, said David Hackney, a spokesman for the Camden-based food company.

Campbell said it will work with Local 56 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union to help the 160 hourly workers represented by the union to find new jobs or obtain benefits. Campbell and the union are discussing the possibility of transferring some unionized workers, as well as non-union salaried workers, from Doylestown to the other plants. No decison has been made yet, Hackney said.

The Doylestown plant was acquired by Mrs. Paul's in 1954 and expanded in the 1960s. Campbell Soup bought Mrs. Paul's in 1982 and operates it as a division of Campbell U.S.A., the company's domestic subsidiary.

Last year, R. Gordon McGovern, Campbell's president and chief executive officer, said that even in the face of "relentless competition," Mrs. Paul's was a strong contributor to earnings in the 1987 fiscal year, which ended Aug. 2. The unit had profits of $11.8 million and sales of $148.8 million, accounting for almost 5 percent of Campbell's total profits and more than 3 percent of the company's $4.5 billion in revenue.

But in announcing first-quarter 1988 results, McGovern said Mrs. Paul's weighed down total profits and experienced a significant decline in sales. And when results for the first half of the fiscal year were released last month, Mrs. Paul's profits were down to $2.2 million from $3.4 million a year ago.

"There is still tremendous competition in the frozen-prepared fish market, and Mrs. Paul's sales do not support operating three plants," Hackney said yesterday. But despite the losses and plant consolidations, Campbell does not intend to sell Mrs. Paul's or fire workers at the two remaining plants, he said.

The Doylestown plant has 46,500 square feet of production space and 54,230 square feet of warehouse space. It is located on 5.6 acres on Main Street. Campbell said it was putting the site up for sale.

"There is simply not room to expand," Hackney said. Coupled with the roughly $2 million that Campbell would have had to spend to meet EPA standards and allay Doylestown residents' environmental concerns, he said Campbell decided it was better to shift production to the other plants.

"The plant closing is sad, but there isn't much that we can do about it," said James S. Smith, vice president of UFCW Local 56, the union representing the Doylestown workers.

Smith praised Campbell for giving the labor force five months' notice.

On the other hand, Smith was critical of Doylestown Borough officials for not working harder to retain Mrs. Paul's, one of the community's biggest employers.

"Figuratively speaking, they accepted Mrs. Paul's departure with a smile," he said. "They just wanted to get rid of the plant and Campbell just stepped back and said, 'Enough is enough.' "

In August 1986, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said it would fine Campbell unless the plant stopped emitting dead-fish odors. The department had fined the company $5,000 for odor problems the year before. The warnings came after 318 Doylestown residents signed a petition and persuaded the borough council to ask Mrs. Paul's to close until it sovled the problems.

The company agreed to change its production process and install devices that scrubbed the air.

"We were concerned with environmental problems, but we weren't trying to close down the plant. . . . Mrs. Paul's is a major industry within the borough and it is regrettable that they are leaving," said Benjamin W. Jones, assistant Doylestown borough manager.

But in addition to the odor, Jones also said there were problems with noise and wastewater treatment. "We have an obligation to the residents to keep Doylestown a safe and nice place to live," he said.

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