Layoffs announced at the Astaris phosphorus plant exceed earlier predictions because of the West's energy crisis, officials said. More than 200 employees will be let go in a three-part process - June 10, 91 employees will be released; Sept. 1, another 25 go, and the final 87-job cut is scheduled June 1, 2002 - trimming the workforce from 428 to 225.
Astaris employs 74 American Indians, most of those tribal members, and is very important to the reservation economy. "This is a devastating announcement from their point of view," said Paul Zelus, director of the Idaho State University Center for Business Research. He predicted a big reduction in purchase of big-ticket items such as cars, boats and appliances and said layoffs could affect real estate sales, he said. Severance packages for hourly employees will be subject to negotiations with the Machinists Union and the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance commission. Eighteen months ago Astaris announced it would reduce its work force this summer by fewer than 100 employees. However, downsizing was greatly magnified by skyrocketing costs of electricity for the plant, an official said. Formerly FMC, Astaris is Idaho Power Co.'s largest customer. It plans to permanently discontinue two of its four furnaces and put a third on standby.