shock' leaves La-Z-Boy employees scrambling
By Angeline Olschewski
May 6, 2008 | TREMONTON -- On April 2, La-Z-Boy Utah
in Tremonton gathered its employees in the warehouse.
Mark Nicholas, employed there for 28 years, and his
sister-in-law, Melanie Price, along with her husband,
Jim Price, employed for 25 years, waited with the crowd.
"Everybody knew something was up because this
had never happened before," said Melanie Price.
Then the vice president announced that all the cutting
and sewing jobs were being sent to Mexico, along with
all the cutting and sewing jobs from the other domestic
"And then we will be shutting down La-Z-Boy Utah
for good," he announced, according to Price. "It
was just a total shock; nobody knew."
She doesn't think the vice president even knew until
about an hour before. "He just signed on a brand new
house," she said.
"It was a complete shock," Mark Nicholas
said. La-Z-Boy told them the export opens up enough
workspace in the other remaining North American plants
to make the Tremonton facility expendable. With no real
warning, 630 workers found themselves looking for a
In a Deseret News story, Kurt L. Darrow, La-Z-Boy's
president and chief executive officer, said the decision
to close this facility was difficult.
"We are confident this reallocation of resources,
combined with the many changes we have made to our production
processes, will continue to strengthen our operations,"
While La-Z-Boy has said the division of positions
into the remaining facilities will open up 400 new jobs,
Price said Tremonton's employees would not "get preferential
"We are welcome to apply for jobs in other factories,
but that doesn't mean we get them," Nicholas explained.
"We would have to compete with everyone else who wants
a job there."
To help with the transition, the company is offering
several services to aid employees in finding new work.
In addition to La-Z-Boy, Box Elder County is home to
multiple plants including Malt-o-Meal, Vulcraft, Autoliv,
Nucor, Liberty Foods and soon Proctor and Gamble in
2010. According to Nicholas, this is part of the problem.
"If there were 500 people out here looking for work,"
Nicholas said, "we wouldn't be closing. But La-Z-Boy
won't compete with the other companies in the area for
When La-Z-Boy opened 30 years ago, it was a family
owned business that Nicholas said "considered their
employees their greatest asset." It offered competitive
wages, an incentive plan that encouraged the employees
to work harder in order to earn more money, and good
benefits, all of which enticed Nicholas to take a job
there to support his wife and growing family.
He even recommended his sister-in-law move to Honeyville
and hire on at the plant. He said he was proud to work
for a company that made a good product and treated their
employees well. But when the company's president died
of a heart attack, someone new came in and turned La-Z-Boy
into a corporation.
"As soon as they made it a corporation, their focus
changed," said Nicholas. "They cut and cut and cut.
They cheapened the product ... as much as they could,
and the only other place they could cut was on employees'
Nicholas said the bottom line became paramount.
"For an example of how they've cut and cut," he said,
"15 years ago I was on incentive, and I was making good
money. Well now we're on a straight wage, but that straight
wage is the same as I was making on incentive 15 years
ago. For the last two years we haven't got a raise at
Still, both he and Price said they didn't see this
"There were some things that La-Z-Boy was having some
problems with," Nicholas said, "but things were starting
to turn around a bit. So it was a complete shock."
Price was especially shocked because she was recently
sent for training on some new software for her position.
"I had gone back to our corporate office which is
in Monroe Michigan the week before with my boss," Price
explained, "and we were learning a new purchasing system.
In fact we were going to go back in May to learn some
more and then three days later we were shut down. We
had no clue."
But both Price and Nicholas consider themselves some
of the lucky ones. For the last eight years, Nicholas
has had a part-time boot repair business out of his
home, which he now hopes to turn into full-time work.
"I really haven't dared advertise because I stay busy
with just word of mouth," Nicholas said. "But with trying
to go full time, I know if I go over to Logan or Malad
and put an ad in the paper, I would keep busy."
Price has spent her tenure at La-Z-Boy in the office,
so she is hopeful that her clerical experience will
allow her to find work more easily. Her husband, Jim,
is not so lucky.
"He'll be 60 in November," she said. "Both his knees
are artificial." This close to retirement and with his
physical limitations, he feels the best job option is
to get his CDL license, and drive some type of delivery
truck in Box Elder or Cache County.
Price said La-Z-Boy is looking into NAFTA's Trade
Adjustment Assistance Program, which according to the
jobs.utah.gov Web site is, "Available to individuals
laid off from employers certified by the U.S. Department
of Labor as having been directly affected by increased
imports or certain shifts of production to other countries
that have a free trade agreement with the United States."
This program provides reemployment services, training
services, job search allowances and relocation allowances.
Price said the employees are still waiting to hear if
they qualify and just who is eligible for the help since
only the cutting and sewing jobs were exported to Mexico,
but the export made everyone at the plant's jobs disappear.
"It's amazing how many people it affects," Price said.
"Not just us, but so many other companies. I had one
man that said, ‘This is going to affect me for a year
at least' because he's on commission. How many more
people is this going to affect other than just the 630
that work there at the plant?"
Price's son, Ty, and Nicholas' daughter, Jessica,
are both attending college on La-Z-Boy scholarships,
which according to Price will go away.
"These were scholarships by the La-Z-Boy founder's
family," Price explained, "and if you're not an employee
at La-Z-Boy, you don't get scholarships. So as of this
semester, they will quit."
While many employees are concerned about their uncertain
futures, Price said she's still focused on the next
three months of work.
"Right now, I'm not [worried]," Price said, "But I
keep thinking, ‘OK, this is not real.' I think I'm in
denial. Somebody's going to call up and say ‘OK, we've
changed our minds."
She will confess she's more worried about going out
and applying for jobs.
"I haven't applied for a job for 25 years," she said,
"and to go out and compete with young girls who've got
more education, that does worry me."
The hardest part of the change is not seeing their
co-workers everyday, said Price.
"That's the bad part," she said. "You'll miss people
out there ... because where are you going to see them
everyday? Once in a great while you might see them on
the street, but not everyday like you did."
Price said there were also good things that came about
because of the announcement. Until recently, it was
high-stress if certain parts weren't there on time,
and now the project just waits until the parts arrive,
"It's not the cutthroat out there like it used to
be," she said. "It's more relaxed now where they can
actually have a little bit of fun, like it used to be
fun out there."
Both Nicholas and Price expressed feelings of disappointment
at how the environment at La-Z-Boy has declined over
the years since it stopped being family owned.
"I told them I wish they had been as loyal to me as
I was to them," Nicholas said. "I used to be proud to
say I worked for La-Z-Boy, but over the last several
years I've been embarrassed because of the reputation
they have, not just with the product, but with the reputation
they have with how they treat their employees."
Nicholas thought the new Proctor and Gamble warehouse
might have finally put La-Z-Boy out of business in 2010,
but he didn't think it would happen before. Price said
she was told they would never close the Tremonton plant.
"It's something you never expect," Price said. "It's
She's optimistic for her family's future, and for
her brother-in-law's future. She said he's wanted to
focus on his business for some time now, and she thinks
this forced change will be the push he needs.
As for her future, she said, "We'll be fine. What
other choice do we have?"