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Price Pfister Makes Cuts to Meet State Rules

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Price Pfister Inc., the nation’s third-biggest faucet maker, is closing part of its Pacoima manufacturing operation, laying off about 550 workers and shifting some jobs to Mexico to cut costs as a result of the company’s battle to comply with state regulations over lead content in its faucets.

After the layoffs, the company will still have about 750 workers in manufacturing, administrative and marketing posts at its Pacoima headquarters.

Most layoffs affect hourly workers who make $7 to $18 an hour, said Sam Wheeler, Price Pfister’s vice president of human resources. The layoffs began last winter, as the company began its gradual closing of the Pacoima foundry, which should be shuttered by the end of this year.

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Price Pfister is shifting much of its final assembly work to a plant in Mexicali, just south of the Mexican border, where it has had an operation for nine years.

“Due to the wonderful Proposition 65 lawsuit, we had to get out of that [foundry] business,” Wheeler said.

In 1992, the state’s attorney general filed suit against more than 20 faucet makers for producing faucets with excessive amounts of lead, which can get into drinking water. In lab tests, Price Pfister had the second-highest lead content in its faucets.

At the time, Price Pfister held about one-third of the faucet market share in California and enjoyed a cost advantage over its rivals because it was the only big faucet maker in the state.

But when the company shifted to a newer manufacturing method, to reduce lead content as part of the state’s Proposition 65 suit, “we had to find another way to compete in the marketplace” and cut costs, Wheeler said.

Proposition 65, passed in 1986, requires warnings on products that expose consumers to hazardous substances, and has led to suits against companies selling everything from fine china to well pumps.

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Earlier this year, Price Pfister and three other faucet makers reached an agreement with the state to remove nearly all the lead in their products by 2000.

When the suit was filed, Price Pfister used an antiquated system called sand casting to make faucets, and in the drying process some lead was absorbed into the metal.

The company now machine-cuts its faucets in Pacoima. That machining work will stay in California, but much of the final assembly and polishing work will be done in Mexicali.

The Mexican plant has about 800 workers, and will add a couple hundred more, as Price Pfister phases out more jobs here.

The faucet maker is a unit of Black & Decker, the $5-billion Towson, Md.-based power tools and appliances concern.

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