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Exide Lays Off More Than 100 Employees As Battle Over Emissions Continues

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The Exide Technologies plant has been closed since March. (credit: CBS)

The Exide Technologies plant has been closed since March. (credit: CBS)

VERNON (CBSLA.com) — A lead-acid battery recycling plant in Vernon has laid off more than 100 employees, weeks after the facility was shut down by air-quality regulators.

A spokesperson for Exide Technologies said Monday the company had issued Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) notifications to its workforce, affecting 20 salaried workers and 104 hourly employees.

The Exide plant, located at 2700 S. Indiana Street, remains shut following a months-long dispute with officials from the South Coast Air Quality Management District over arsenic emissions and after recent testing found elevated levels of lead in the yards of 39 homes near the plant.

The SCAQMD hearing board recently denied Exide’s request for a variance to obtain an extension while working to install upgraded “negative pressure” furnaces designed to meet more stringent emission requirements. Clearance would have enabled the plant to continue operations.

Exide CEO Robert M. Caruso said without a variance, the company cannot restart its plant.

“Because our Vernon facility is not currently operating and not able to meet the new operational standard without the necessary time to purchase, install and test the required equipment, we had not choice but to make this very difficult decision to temporarily lay off most of our workers – some of whom are second- or third-generation Exide employees,” Caruso said. “We know these layoffs will be difficult for our employees and their families, and we thank them for their efforts and dedication to our Company.”

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge earlier this month also denied a petition from the company, which would have allowed Exide to continue operating the Vernon facility until a trial on the legality of recently amended air quality regulations could be held.

The WARN notice issued to employees is meant to provide protection to workers and their families by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered layoffs.

David Campbell, Secretary-Treasurer, United Steel Workers, AFL-CIO, Local No. 675, said the layoffs were “disappointing.”

“These are highly specialized, well-paying jobs that simply can’t be easily transferred to other industries,” he said in part.

“As California works to grow its green economy, we need our state leaders and local regulators to work collaboratively with large manufacturing companies to help them achieve California’s rigorous air quality standards, protect public health and concurrently provide these types of solid jobs to local families.”

Exide officials said they have made arrangements with outside companies to continue battery-recycling operations and will continue to evaluate alternatives regarding future operations at the Vernon plant.

“Exide is prepared to invest in the people, processes and technology at our Vernon facility,” Bruce Cole, President, Recycling, and Research and Development, said. “We have an approved plan in place, focused on upgrades that will further reduce emissions, as well as enhance the health and safety of our employees, and the community. We continue working cooperatively with the Department of Toxic Substance Control and community leaders, and stand ready to work with AQMD, so that we may undertake these significant initiatives.”

Exide’s Vernon plant, which recycled 23,000 to 41,000 batteries daily, was temporarily shut down last year due to arsenic emissions.

SCAQMD sued Exide in January, seeking up to $40 million amid claims of numerous air quality violations they say pose an unacceptably high cancer risk for thousands of residents in southeast L.A. County.

Company officials have said they have agreed to invest more than $5 million in the plant over the next two years, bringing the firm’s total investment to more than $20 million since 2010, and reducing arsenic emissions by 95 percent.

The Vernon plant, in operation since 1922, has been operating under a temporary permit from the state Department of Toxic Substances Control for the past 32 years. DTSC officials said last year it is the only facility left in the state that has not been fully permitted.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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