ELKHART — The long-suspected closing of Gunite Corp. in Elkhart has been finalized and about 210 workers in Elkhart will soon lose their jobs.
Gunite’s parent company, Accuride Corp., announced Wednesday that Gunite will consolidate operations into its Rockford, Ill., facility over the next few months.
Gunite is now expected to cease manufacturing operations at the Middlebury Street plant by the end of the year, but will likely not completely close its facility until early 2013, said company spokesman Timothy Weir.
Production will be transferred in phases beginning on about Sept. 23.
The Elkhart facility produces machined brake drums and hubs, drum-hub assemblies and spoke wheels for heavy duty trucks.
Gunite has been in Elkhart for about 29 years.
Wednesday’s announcement ends more than two years of speculation about the plant’s future. Less than three months ago, the company laid off 25 full-time employees.
The decision was still a shock for workers, said Jim Szucs, spokesman for Teamsters Local 364.
“We always held out hope that management would make the decision to stay in Elkhart, but with the moving of machines and the rumors that existed over the last couple of years, the employees felt it was almost inevitable that this day would come,” Szucs said.
“It’s tough living day to day not knowing if there would be longevity in the workplace,” Szucs said.
Rick Dauch, president and CEO of Accuride, vowed to “treat our associates affected by this decision with dignity and respect,” while also working closely with customers and suppliers to ensure uninterrupted supply throughout the transition.
“While this action will be difficult for our associates and the community in Elkhart, it is necessary to return our Gunite business to profitability and meet the competitive challenges we are facing in a changing marketplace,” Dauch said in a prepared statement.
In 2010, Accuride announced and later rescinded similar plans to consolidate Gunite operations and close the Elkhart facility.
The decision became more pressing because of recent “softening” in the North American heavy duty truck market and the influx of low-cost products from off-shore competitors, the company said in a prepared statement.
By consolidating production, Gunite hopes to improve efficiency, reduce operating costs and become a more dependable supplier to its customers, the company said.
Accuride is expected to begin negotiations with union representatives next week to reach agreement on termination benefits for workers through the effects bargaining process, Szucs said.
The agreement will likely include incentives to encourage workers to continue show up to work and remain productive, Szucs said.
The company also invited the displaced workers to consider other future openings with Accuride.
Accuride also plans to contact other employers in the Elkhart area to inform them about the availability and applicable skills of its workers.
The Elkhart plant was constructed in the 1970s by a company that owned Kelsey Axle and Brake.
Accuride, based in Evansville, Ind., acquired the facility in 2005.
According to Gunite’s web site, Gunite’s history dates back to 1854 when it became the first foundry west of New York to develop a process for the founding of malleable iron.
According to the company’s web site, Gunite is considered the largest producer of wheel-end components in North America.