MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Oscar Mayer employees and government officials struggled to come to grips Wednesday with the news that the meat processer's parent company will shut down its Madison headquarters, wiping out hundreds of jobs at a company that has been a part of the community's fabric since 1919.
Kraft Heinz Food Co. said the Madison Oscar Mayer offices and adjoining processing plant is one of seven plants in the U.S. and Canada that will close as part of an effort to save $1.5 billion in costs. The headquarters will shift from Madison to Chicago; the other plants slated for closure include facilities in Fullerton, California; San Leandro, California; Federalsburg, Maryland; St. Marys, Ontario, Canada; Campbell, New York; and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.
The company plans to shed a total of 2,600 jobs. About 300 corporate workers in Madison will be offered jobs at the company's co-headquarters in Chicago; the remaining 700 or so production workers here will lose their positions in three waves of layoffs over the next two years, Mayor Paul Soglin said at a news conference.
"It definitely bites," said Joshua Nehls, 38, of Janesville, who has worked at the Madison facility for a decade; his current task is packing Lunchable snack packs. "It's tragic. There were a lot of tears (when company officials announced the closure). A lot of people's lives are here."
Oscar G. Mayer, son of the man who founded the company, decided to buy a slaughtering plant in 1919 to supply raw materials for processed meats.
The company moved its corporate headquarters from Chicago to Madison in 1955, according to a Kraft Foods timeline. The company started its continuous wiener process machine, capable of producing 36,000 wieners per hour, in Madison in 1962.
Since then Oscar Mayer has become known for its cold cuts, its "My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R" jingle and its Wienermobiles, 27-foot-long vehicles shaped like hot dogs that travel the nation promoting the company.