Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 24, 2003

Sterner Lighting layoffs hit hard for employees

By Ryan Gueningsman

Sterner Lighting of Winsted, which is a division of Hubbell Lighting, has been going through extreme downsizing recently.

Roughly 20 employees, some of whom work in the shop, and others in offices, have been laid off.

Todd Kieser of Winsted worked at Sterner Lighting for 22-and-a-half years in the shop area. He was laid off, but was called back to operate a machine.

"Hubbell gave them one more year to try to get things going again," Kieser said. "They had a choice of laying off people or shutting the doors."

Throughout the whole company, there was at one time 250 employees there when a night shift was running, Kieser said. Now, that number is about 60. The night shift ended several years back, he said.

"Right now, it's a skeleton crew until they get built back up," Kieser said. "There are about six or seven of them (working). It used to be 50 or 60."

In the machine shop, there used to be about 20 workers, now that number is down to seven, Kieser said.

"Everyone is kind of in the dark," Keiser said. "Some people are saying it'll be done after the first of the year, but we're supposed to get some more salesmen. It's a shame."

Chuck Kirby of Winsted worked at Sterner Lighting for 21 years as a spinner in the shop. He was laid off several weeks ago.

"When we left, they didn't say there was a good chance of getting called back or anything like that," Kirby said. "I'm just hoping to find something else in the meantime. I don't really want to go back there because I'm not sure how long it's going to be around."

Gary Briesemeister of Howard Lake worked as an engineer for 31 years, and was laid off Nov. 7.

"The atmosphere, technology, and the people were all great," Briesemeister said. "They didn't say anything about getting a call back though ­ and I'd say there won't be."

Briesemeister and Kirby have both been been searching for new jobs. Kirby is starting with other places in Winsted, and if he can't find anything here, he will look to a bigger area.

Briesemeister began his search the day he was laid off, and still hasn't had luck finding something new.

"I enjoyed working there," he said.

Wayne Nielson of Hutchinson was also an engineer at Sterner's for 27 years. He resigned his position Nov. 11. Nielson echoed Briesemeister's thoughts.

"Sterner's was the greatest little lighting company in the world," Nielson said.

Nielson remembers that when he started in 1976, Sterner's had a high-tech CAD system, and vo-techs sent their classes there to learn.

"Sales started slumping, and different reps came in," Nielson said. "We lost a lot of old Sterner reps, and acquired new reps who were not familier with our products."

Neilson doesn't fault any of the management in Winsted.

"As far as management here, they're good guys," he said. "This is a deal that no one had control over."

Local management refered the Herald Journal to Hubbell's corporate offices in Orange, Conn. for comments about the layoffs. Phone calls to Hubbell were unreturned.

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