The Philip Morris company announced yesterday that it has decided to keep open its razor blad plant in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, saving the jobs of at least 500 workers in Augusta County.
A Philip Morris spokesman said the firm will be able to keep open its American Safety Razor Co. subsidiary in Verona by starting to make other products there. Spokesman Frank A. Saunders said, however, that its brand-name razor-blade operation will be eliminated, although razors and surgical blades still might be manufactured for hospitals and other firms.
While Philip Morris' decision will save the jobs of 500 workers, it was not immediately clear whether the firm will rehire 275 other workers who were laid off earlier this month.
"We're most emphatically happy," said R.E. Hudd, the Augusta County administrator and one of several officials who praised Philip Morris' decision.
"Every employee they can keep will be of great help to this community," said Mayor Michael E. Kivlighan of Staunton, seven miles from the plant.
Augusta officials said that if the plant were closed it would have had "a domino effect" on the county. Augusta already has an unemployment rate of 7 per cent and county officials said the community cannot provide new jobs for workers laid off a the razor-blade plant.
Philip Morris said last month it would shut the safety-razor subsidiary, 150 miles southwest of Washington, after the Federal Trade Commission moved to block the sale of the Verona operation to the Bic Pen Corp. on grounds that the sale would "lessen competition" in the safety-razor industry.
Earlier this month, more than 500 Augusta residents demonstrated at the FTC offices here and on Capitol Hill in an effort to keep the plant from closing.
Following their demonstration, the FTC agreed to reconsider its objections to the sale. Rep. M. Caldwell Butler (R-Va) then persuaded Philip Morris and Bic to reopen negotiations.
"I think Congressman Butler had a lot to do with (the decision to keep the plant open), Saunders said.
Saunders said Bic officials told Philip Morris that the company was no longer interested in purchasing the Verona plant, even if the FTC withdrew its objections to the sale.
Saunders said profits were declining on the American Safety Razor operation at the Verona plant and amounted only to $1 million last year. He said Philip Morris had tried to sell the plant in an effort to preserve the jobs of the 775 workers at the plant.
"The company's heart was in the right place," he said.
The company made such brand-name razor blades as Personna, Personna II, and Flicker, a women's razor, in Verona.
Saunders said the company has not determined which operations would be moved to Verona.
"I think it's wonderful," Raymond R. Nuckles, a plant employee, said of the Philip Morris decision adding that it shows what "a lot of faith," community support and pressure from Capitol Hill can do.
A job placement office has been established in a Staunton motel for those who were laid off. An American Safety Razor spokesman, William L. Hall, who himself will lose his job at the end of April, is helping laid-off workers write and distribute resumes.