Snorkel Makes Layoffs Permanent

St. Joseph News-Press

Official cites impact of economic downturn

July 29, 2009

Snorkel International has announced 70 permanent layoffs as a result of deteriorating business conditions.

The company, which makes aerial lift platforms at its facility in Elwood, Kan., notified the mayors of Elwood and St. Joseph last week.

The work force reductions include four new layoffs, in addition to the decision to make 66 other layoffs permanent. The company had previously characterized the 66 layoffs as temporary.

“We had anticipated an improvement in our business over the summer, but business has not picked up,” Tammy Karr, Snorkel’s director of human resources, said in the letter to the two mayors. “We had believed that the summer season would provide additional business for us, but it has just not rebounded as we expected.”

The layoffs come after Tanfield Group, a holding company based in the United Kingdom, bought Snorkel for $125 million in 2007. Tanfield’s businesses include aerial lift equipment and zero-emission vehicles, according to the holding company’s Web site.

Recent downsizing at Snorkel includes layoffs of 125 last September and 186 later in the year.

In its annual report, Tanfield said its profits fell 87 percent last year, without accounting for restructuring costs. The company said most of that drop came in the second half of 2008, when the economic downturn hit construction and manufacturing, two industries closely tied to the aerial lift business.

Snorkel, which has been subject to boom-and-bust cycles for years, had about 400 employees in Elwood when Tanfield bought the company.

When asked how many people were currently employed at Snorkel, Ms. Karr said she could not answer that question and referred a reporter to Tanfield’s public relations contact in the United Kingdom.

The PR official in the U.K., contacted by e-mail, did not provide the information in his response.

Steven Galloway, a representative with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the union still represents about 70 bargaining unit workers at the plant. He said he wasn’t sure how many management employees were still at Snorkel.