No Death Knell Here : . . . Move to Oklahoma? Smith Workers Are Less Than Ecstatic

Times Staff Writer

Richard Bernal, a 35 year-old tool grinder, pretty much summed up the attitude of Smith International workers:

“Who the hell wants to move to Oklahoma?”

As they poured out of the company’s Irvine drill bit manufacturing plant Wednesday, workers displayed little enthusiasm for potential transfers to the Sooner state.

After 52 years in Orange County, Smith International In c . is planning to pull out of California as part of a consolidation caused by the collapse of the oil industry and Smith’s continuing efforts to rebound from a bankruptcy restructuring.


In March, 1989, Smith will close its drill-bit plant and relocate its corporate headquarters from Irvine to Houston. Some of the plant’s 456 workers will be offered transfers to a sister plant in Ponca City, Okla.

Bernal, who has been with Smith since he was 18, said that if he is offered a job in Ponca City, he will probably turn it down.

“I love Southern California,” he said. “My house and family are here. This is the only job I’ve ever had. I’ve never been laid off before. I’m bummed. Everyone is.”

Others said that they aren’t too keen on the idea of moving to a city of 26,000 people about 105 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, but they will wait and see what the company has to offer before making up their minds.


“I’m not sure what I’m going to do,” said Lee Conley, who has worked for Smith for more than 20 years. “I’m waiting to see what they are going to offer me.”

Company officials will be arriving next week from Smith’s Ponca City plant to determine which Irvine workers will be offered new jobs. Of the 486 plant workers affected, as many as 200 could be offered new jobs in Ponca City.

“But realistically, we have no idea at this point how many will be matched up with jobs in Ponca City and how many, in fact, will want to go,” said Loren Carroll, Smith’s chief financial officer.

Several workers who spoke to a reporter outside the plant Wednesday said they bore no grudge against the company, which is offering 30% bonuses to entice the staff to stay on until the company closes.

Most said they had been aware that the plant would eventually close but had not expected the action for another 4 or 5 years. They said the severe slump in the oil industry had left the company with no other choice.