PERU – Union officials say an incentive package to keep Schneider Electric from leaving Peru was not successful and the company is moving forward with shutting down the plant and laying off more than 300 workers.

Tony Wickersham, a grand lodge representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which represents the plant, said Thursday negotiations to keep the city’s largest employer from leaving have failed.

He said the union proposed ways for Schneider Electric to save money through wages and benefits, but the company wasn’t persuaded to stay. 

“We made proposals to show the company some additional savings that might have them change their minds to stay, and they’re still intent to close,” Wickersham said. “We tried to show them how much saving we could create through different means, but they’re moving the plant.”

Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, said city and county officials had also discussed potential incentives to offer the company, including redistributing the income tax the company paid back to Schneider Electric.

Another suggestion was creating a special taxing unit around the plant that would allow the city to redistribute property taxes back to the company so it could reinvest it in the facility.

Wickersham said it was a hard blow when the company informed the union at the end of March it was leaving, despite the incentive package.

“It’s just great sadness,” he said. “It’s unfortunate we have to go down this road. I wish the company would have seen more value in keeping the work here.”

Now, over the last week, a union bargaining committee has been negotiating with the company on severance packages and other benefits that employees will receive once the plant closes. Wickersham said they hope to bring the negotiated package to employees for a vote on Saturday.

The news from union officials that the company will not stay in Peru brings an end to two months of scrambling to convince Schneider Electric to stay after its surprise announcement in February it was closing the facility.

The company shocked employees and union leaders with the news it was transferring all production from the Peru plant to its facility in Texas and one other East Coast plant. Some production will also be shifted to the company's plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

The company said the closure is in “response to competitive market dynamics and to meet the needs of Schneider Electric’s customers.” All transitions are expected to be completed by the end of the 2019.

Schneider Electric opened in the city in the early 1900s and currently employs 306 workers at its plant at 252 N. Tippecanoe St., making it one of the largest employers in Miami County.

Tidd said the city and county will now turn its attention to helping workers find jobs or get more training in the wake of the layoffs. He said other major employers in the area are hiring, which gives workers affected by the Schneider closing a good chance of landing a new job. 

“We’ll concentrate now on the workers,” he said. “How can we assist them in finding new employment?”

The announcement the company was leaving Peru, coupled with the closure in March of the Kmart store, which was one of the largest retail options in city, has left many residents sour on the city’s economic outlook.

Peru Mayor Gabe Greer said in a previous interview that the plant closure will have a "huge impact" on the city. But, he said, it was fortunate that other major employers are currently hiring, including Progress Rail, Snavely Machine and Heraeus Electro-nite.

Tidd said although the closure of the Schneider Electric facility will have a big impact on the local economy, there’s reason for optimism.

“I feel terrible because of the years and the history the company had in this community, but this isn’t the end the community or the end of Peru,” he said. “We’ll find something else to go in that building, and we’ll recover and keep pressing on.”

Schneider Electric declined to comment for this story.

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