CHARLESTOWN — Whelen Engineering Co. laid off nearly 150 employees at its Charlestown plant Friday, citing the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, Whelen is cutting about a sixth of its workforce. In addition to the 148 jobs being cut in Charlestown, Whelen is laying off 98 people at its headquarters in Chester, Conn., according to a news release the company sent Friday afternoon. Friday was the last day of work for the employees affected by the cuts, who included staff in production, engineering, finance and sales.
“COVID-19 has created significant financial constraints and has resulted in a reduction in our product demand,” George W. Whelen V, the company’s president and CEO, said in a statement to employees Thursday, according to the release. “To preserve our ability to rebuild when this recession is over, we have been forced to make the difficult but unavoidable decision to reduce our workforce.”
The company notified employees at the beginning of their shifts Thursday that layoffs would come the following day, a company spokesperson who declined to be named said in an email responding to questions from The Sentinel. Employees were then allowed to return home with a full day’s pay. The company sent layoff notices via UPS to employees’ homes Friday.
Whelen chose this approach to maintain social distancing during the notification process, allow workers to receive notices in the privacy of their homes and complete the process relatively quickly, the company spokesperson said.
Whelen designs and builds warning lights, sirens and other emergency warning equipment for the automotive, aviation and mass-notification industries worldwide, according to its website. Before the cuts, it employed 981 people in New Hampshire and 493 in Connecticut, the company said.
The layoffs come as “the company re-examines all operations in order to streamline and drive long-term growth in the post-coronavirus world,” according to the news release.
The pandemic has affected Whelen’s suppliers and customers, ultimately leading to decreased demand, the company spokesperson added.
“This was a difficult, but unavoidable decision and a last resort,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Since May we have rescheduled shift patterns, cancelled the contracts for most of our temporary workers, implemented a freeze on merit increases and implemented a short production furlough. Unfortunately, this was not enough.”
Affected employees are eligible for severance pay, and Whelen has contracted with a company to help them find new jobs, according to a letter received by a laid-off employee that was shared anonymously with The Sentinel.
Under the N.H. Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, companies with more than 100 employees are required to notify employees and certain government officials at least 60 days before a mass layoff. As of late Friday afternoon, the N.H. Department of Labor had not received a WARN notice from Whelen, Deputy Commissioner Rudolph Ogden said, though he added that companies are exempt from filing such notices if their layoffs meet certain exceptions.
“COVID, in large part, has been deemed one of those [exceptions],” Ogden said. “Now, the further it goes into the pandemic going on, it makes it maybe a little bit less apt of an exception. But that exception is in play.”
Ogden added that the department of labor will look into whether or not Whelen needed to file a WARN notice in this case. The company did not immediately provide information about whether it had filed one.
Whelen Engineering Co. was founded in 1952 in Deep River, Conn., according to the company’s website. Whelen opened a Charlestown facility in 1987. Four years later, the company moved to its current location in the CEDA Industrial Park off Route 12A, where Whelen expanded to a 285,000-square-foot plant, according to the company website.