Hall China Co. Anticipates Recalling Laid Off Employees

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio — Some employees laid off from The Hall China Co. could be called back to work as soon as next week, according to one company official, who said the COVID-19 pandemic has left the company in “uncharted waters.”

Ralph Smith, who serves as human resources officer for both the East Liverpool pottery at 1 Anna St. and the former Homer Laughlin China Co. in Newell, W.Va., said in a phone conversation Wednesday, “We’re looking to call people back. We’re reviewing bringing back folks. Hopefully in a week, we can bring back some. It’s uncharted waters.”

Smith had sent a Worker Adjustment And Retraining Notification (WARN) Act letter April 30 to both East Liverpool Mayor Greg Bricker and the Columbiana County Department of Jobs and Family Services, notifying them of the pending mass layoff at Hall China.

The WARN Act of 1988 requires such notification by employers with 100 or more employees, providing 60 calendar days advance notice of plant closings or mass layoffs. With 100 employees at Hall, the anticipated layoff of about 40 workers between April 30 and May 30 meant the WARN letter was necessary.

In his letter, Smith advised the company was unable to give the full 60-day notice required for “a couple of crucial reasons,” writing, “our business was struggling to survive.”

He said various companies were interested in purchasing the business but backed away, then the ultimate buyer of a portion of the business, Steelite International, did not want the sale disclosed, fearing the loss of business and the inability to secure badly needed capital.

The buyer also did not want the company to announce any closure for fear of a major loss of business and indecision over the number of employees it would retain, Smith wrote.

Before a total number of layoffs could be decided, the coronavirus epidemic hit, Smith wrote, and the company was closed down.

“Now that there is a better understanding, we are sending out this notice as the amount of layoffs will meet or exceed one-third of the workforce,” he concluded.

Hall China was started by Robert Hall in 1903 and was purchased by Homer Laughlin more than 10 years ago. It had been making many of the Newell company’s larger Fiesta items, according to Smith.

Homer Laughlin sold its food service division as well as its name and The Hall China Co. to Steelite International March 24, with the company no longer making or marketing products for food service customers.

As part of the sale, Homer Laughlin changed its name to The Fiesta Tableware Co., and the popular Fiestaware line was not part of the sale but will continue to be manufactured locally for both retail and commercial customers.

Smith said Wednesday Hall China planned to purchase ware from The Fiesta Tableware Company prior to the plant being closed by the coronavirus pandemic. Although manufacturing has been allowed to reopen in West Virginia, it is still closed down in Pennsylvania where Steelite International is located, meaning no orders can be received, so none of the laid off employees could yet be recalled.

Pictured: The Hall China Co. visitor entrance. Image: Dustin M. Ramsey / Attribution

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