Nestle to Close Oxnard Plant; 550 Workers to Lose Jobs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move that will cost about 550 workers their jobs, Nestle USA Inc. has announced it will shut down and sell its Oxnard plant, ending a decades-old operation that has been a steady source of employment for generations of residents.

Nestle bought the plant in September amid a dispute between workers and the former owner, Nabisco Foods Group. Under Nabisco, the factory produced Ortega Mexican foods, A-1 Steak Sauce, Regina Vinegar and the world's supply of Grey Poupon mustard.

The plant received national attention last year before it was sold to Nestle when a group of female workers complained they were consistently denied restroom breaks and resorted to wearing diapers on the production line.

Since selling the Oxnard plant and its line of Ortega products last year, Nabisco has been steadily shifting key operations to the East Coast.

Production of A-1 Steak Sauce has been moved to a plant in Maryland. Sunday will be the last day of production in Oxnard for Regina Vinegar and Grey Poupon, which are also moving to Maryland; that will leave about 120 full-time employees without jobs.

Nestle officials have announced they will shift the processing of Ortega chiles--a seasonal operation that usually starts in the summer--to other facilities.

The move will leave about 550 seasonal employees without work. And it will silence, at least for the immediate future, the facility's production lines for the first time in at least 50 years. That prospect saddens and angers employees, union representatives and elected officials who have worked to keep the plant open.

Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn, who met with Nestle officials and urged them to establish a permanent operation in Oxnard, said, "We laid out the red carpet and they weren't interested. . . . I'm rather disgusted with the lack of community responsibility."

Nestle spokeswoman Julie Thomas-Lowe said the decision to sell the plant and shift production of Ortega foods was made after a careful review.

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