A day after telling employees it would remain open, Huntwood Industries abruptly changed course Thursday and laid off the bulk of about 500 employees at its Liberty Lake headquarters.
Huntwood, one of the Spokane area’s largest manufacturers, builds cabinets. Two employees who were laid off Thursday said Huntwood managers said they were forced to shut down after Gov. Jay Inslee clarified Wednesday night that construction was not an essential business as part of the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“It is a scary time,” said Amy Ohms, 37, of Spokane Valley, who has been working at Huntwood for most of the past year. “It’s kind of unfair. I think construction is essential. There is a lot of uncertainty.”
A call to Huntwood’s corporate office was not returned Thursday afternoon. As of 2019, the company listed 681 total employees, which would make it second only to Kaiser Aluminum Washington LLC’s 950 manufacturing jobs in the Spokane area.
The layoffs come after Huntwood executives gave employees the option Wednesday of taking two weeks off if they had concerns about working during the pandemic. Several employees took the offer, but about 200 employees still showed up Thursday, said Jackie Hayes, 34, also of Spokane Valley.
“I have four kids, and I live on my own,” said Hayes, who worked as Huntwood’s quality control, safety assistant and secretary of the safety committee. “I don’t have anybody helping me with my bills. It’s kind of scary.”
Ohms and Hayes said Huntwood ha a history of employing nontraditional workers. It had several older employees and had given part-time jobs to people with special needs. Hayes said she knew of one employee on the line who was at least 75.
“About 25 percent of our plant is probably over 50,” Hayes said. “A lot of them are harder workers than the younger workforce. Young people don’t really last there.”
But now Ohms, who has twin boys, and Hayes will join an ever-growing list of workers applying for unemployment benefits in an economy falling into recession under the weight of COVID-19.
“It’s difficult to file a claim online because it’s so overloaded,” Ohms said. “It’s going to put my housing at risk, essential bills and food.”
Hayes had similar concerns. Her mother owns a restaurant in Spokane Valley and was forced to close, only to find out that she does not qualify for unemployment because she was a business owner, she said.
Huntwood executives offered their employees sympathy for the move, Hayes said.
“But once the governor shuts them down, there was nothing they could do about it,” she said.
Both women hope that Huntwood will be able to restart in April.
“Governor Inslee can change his mind at any point in time,” Hayes said. “We are at the mercy of the government now.”
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