Blue Bell laying off hundreds of workers

KHOU.com & Larry Seward10:59 p.m. CDT May 15, 2015

BRENHAM, Texas – Blue Bell announced Friday it will lay off hundreds of workers and reduce hours and pay for others.

Thirty-seven percent of the Blue Bell workforce of 3,900 will lose their jobs — that’s 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time workers.

Another 1,400 employees will be furloughed.

“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make in my time as Blue Bell’s CEO and President,” Paul Kruse said in a written statement.

Blue Bell said the process of cleaning and improving Blue Bell’s four production plants is going to take longer than expected, especially at the main plant in Brenham.

“There’s no one (in town) who is not touched,” Brandi Conway said.

30 years ago, Joe Robertson started as a delivery driver. He eventually earned the title of company spokesman.

“This is the toughest day I’ve ever experienced at Blue Bell,” Robertson said.

He took a pay cut but felt far worse for lifelong friends let going during an hour’s worth of meetings Friday afternoon. They are coworkers he considers family and people he hopes get another chance.

“It may take a while, but that’s our goal,” Robertson said.

“At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible,” Kruse said. “At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future. This is a sad day for all of us at Blue Bell, and for me personally.”

There is no firm timeline for when Blue Bell will begin producing ice cream again. When production resumes, it will be limited and phased in over time, the company said.

Kruse said the employee actions affect three groups:

  • Employees who are essential to ongoing operations and cleaning and repair efforts will continue to work but have their pay reduced.
  • A second group of employees will be placed on partially paid furlough. They will be paid a substantial portion of their current pay, with the expectation that they will return to work as production resumes.
  • Because there is not a clear timeline for when production will resume, and because supply and distribution will be limited when it does, a third group of employees will be laid off.

Blue Bell also suspend operations and laid off employees at the following distribution centers: Phoenix; Tucson; Denver; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Wichita; Louisville; Albuquerque; Las Vegas; Raleigh; Charlotte; Columbia; and Richmond.