Gun-built upstate town in New York reflects on future after Remington plant sale

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Ilion, NY – Workers at the sprawling Remington Factory in this upstate New York village took pride in a local tradition of gun making dating back to the flintlock era. Now they look to the future with uncertainty.

Jacquie Sweeney and her husband were among some 600 workers laid off by the company this week, months after Remington Outdoor Co. filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in two years.

Successful bidders for the inactive plant in bankruptcy proceedings have said they plan to restart at least part of production, although details remain scarce.

There are high hopes for a successful reloading of the factory which dominates the local economy. But those hopes are tempered by questions about how many workers will return and when.

“My husband is looking for work, like everyone else. And I plan to go back to college unless I find a job before I start this, ”said Sweeney, registration secretary for the local United Mine Workers of America unit. “That’s all we can really do. We cannot just sit there and wait forever. “

It’s common for people here to say that Ilion is Remington and Remington is Ilion. Company founder Eliphalet Remington began making flintlock rifles at his father’s forge near here in 1816, and the site of the Ilion factory dates back to 1828. Although the company moved its headquarters to Madison, North Carolina, the former factory towers – literally and figuratively – a village that has long relied on workers who make rifles and shotguns to fuel the economy.

Union signs reading “United we stand with the workers of Remington” can be found in the windows of local businesses that sell everything from slices of pizza to steel-toed boots. At the Beer Belly Bob beverage center across from the factory, Bob McDowell recalled the surge in sales on Thursdays and Fridays after shifts ended at 3pm.

“I called it the beer train,” McDowell said with a smile. “It was busy and let’s go.”

The recent history of Remington has been a roller coaster ride with many drops. Layoffs are commonplace. The plant, which employed around 1,200 people eight years ago, had recently fallen to around 600 unionized workers plus around 100 workers. The company began moving two production lines to a new factory in Huntsville, Alabama, in 2014.

Remington addressed not only the volatile gun market, but also legal action, following the Sandy Hook School Massacre in 2012. The gunman who killed 20 children and six educators at the Connecticut school used a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle, which was once made here.

Most of the workers were laid off at the end of September as the company went through bankruptcy proceedings. Locals wondered if it would ever start again.

The business was divided by several buyers. Bankruptcy court approved the $ 30 million offer from Sturm, Ruger & Co. for Marlin Firearms, which was made here, and the $ 81.4 million offer from Anoka, Minnesota , Vista Outdoor for the Remington Ammunition and Accessories businesses.

Roundhill Group’s $ 13 million bid included the Ilion gun factory and a handgun barrel factory in Lenoir City, Tennessee.

Roundhill partner Richmond Italia, a paintball industry veteran, said he was approached by Remington CEO Ken D’Arcy about the opportunity, according to documents filed in the bankruptcy case.

“I believe Mr. D’Arcy approached me because of my manufacturing business in the paintball gun market and apparently Mr. D’Arcy thought there could be a synergy,” Italia said. in court documents.

Roundhill has pledged in court documents to bring back at least 200 workers. They could possibly add hundreds, but the details are unclear.

Roundhill partners have not responded to calls and emails asking for their plans. But Italia told WUTR-TV last week that it plans to bring in as many workers as possible within “a few months”.

Local officials believe a number of pieces must be in place before production begins, from a collective agreement with the union to a new federal firearms license.

One likely product would be Remington’s Model 870 shotguns, said Jamie Rudwall, a district representative for the union. He said new owners can rely on a skilled workforce to produce shotguns for a hot market.

The FBI reports that it performed more background checks to buy or own a firearm in the first nine months of 2020 than any previous year.

“We certainly have this ability to get everyone back to work by the age of 870, or between 1,200 and 1,800 a day. And every one of them will be sold, ”said Rudwall, who once worked at the factory.

UMW said it had had “productive discussions” with Roundhill. Meanwhile, he also excoriated outgoing owners for laying off 585 workers this week along with their healthcare and other contractual benefits. The union said the company was refusing to pay severance pay and accumulated vacation, prompting picket lines in Ilion this week.

Local officials say the new owners have also expressed concerns about the efficiency of the old four-story factory, preferring a modern one-story factory. Vincent Bono, speaker of the Herkimer County Legislature, met with them on Thursday and said he believes something can be worked out to keep the long local tradition of gun production alive.

“We are optimistic that Remington is going to have a home here,” Bono said. “To what extent, we really don’t know.”

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