Rutland Herald
January 28, 1993

Proud Marble Soon Memory

For Remaining Workers Sad Conclusion to History

By Bruce Edwards

Proctor – It was a company that at its peak employed thousands, but on Wednesday a handful of the 15 remaining Vermont Marble Co. workers spoke with sadness, resignation and a hint of bitterness about the end of the 123-year-old company.

The company’s 15 workers were informed of the closing more than a week ago, but that did not blunt the feelings of several workers who spoke sadly about the pending end of the company. And not all of them were convinced the recession alone was the reason for the company’s demise.

Meanwhile, Gov. Howard B. Dean and another state official said Wednesday they were surprised and shocked that the company was closing.

But for the workers the signs that the company was in trouble had been evident for some time as business continued to drop off. It became more evident earlier this month that the company’s days were numbered when Vermont Marble announced that it was leasing its Danby quarry – the source of its popular white marble – to a European stone conglomerate.

"You’d never thought the place would close down," said Charles Swahn, a 38-year veteran of the company, who remembered the days when the mill employed as many as 500 workers.

Sitting at a picnic-style lunch table inside the cavernous mill at the end of the workday Wednesday, Swahn and several other workers took issue with the company’s position that the recession was the sole culprit that brought about the end of Vermont Marble

"They didn’t want to be in the marble business," said Swahn, referring to Pluess-Staufer, the Swiss owner, whose primary business is calcium carbonate.

Raymond Tanner, who has worked for the company for 37 years, was resigned to the company’s decision. "What can you do?" said Tanner, who runs the gangsaw. "It’s their place. They can do what they want."

For Proctor resident Linda Carrara the company was more than just a place to pick up a paycheck. "I lived in Proctor most of my life… My mother and father went through here," said Carrara, a seven-year veteran of the company.

To Carrara, poor management played a part in the company’s recent downhill slide. And, like Swahn, Carrara noted the owners of Pluess-Staufer lacked an interest in the marble business. "Max Andre (Schachenmann) never wanted this place anyway," she said, referring to the son of the Swiss owner.

Kurt Stanley said he thought the decision to close was a simple matter of dollars and cents. "In order to keep making the big money, they have to drop it," said Stanley, one of the younger workers who has been with the company for three years."

Stanley pointed out that the "big money" for Pluess-Staufer was up the road at its OMYA calcium carbonate plant in Florence.

The closing was especially sad for Julia Frazier, who just recently retired after 26 years with the company. "My husband worked for the company and my father worked here," said Frazier. "I hate to see the place go."

The workers said the company was not providing any kind of a severance package, outplacement service or retraining. The only thing union workers will receive is pay for unused vacation time and personal days.

"It’s a shame that a landmark like that has to be wiped out," said Alfred J. Froeschl, the mill’s shop steward for Local 4 of the United Steelworkers of America.

Froeschl said there was no doubt that the slump in the building industry had a lot to do with the company’s decision to close. But he agreed with the assessment of others that Pluess-Staufer never had an interest in the marble business.

"Even when they bought it, the place was up for sale," said Froeschl, during a telephone interview from his Poultney home. Asked whether alleged mismanagement played a part in the company’s troubles, Foreschl declined comment.

"I’m a little surprised they didn’t let us know," Dean said Wednesday night. "What we will try to do is help Pluess-Staufer find a buyer…if they’re willing to talk to us."

Another state official said his agency’s first priority would be to help the soon-to-be laid off workers. "Vermont Marble’s decision is one that will require us to make sure employees get the assistance they need in terms of outplacement," said William Shouldice IV, deputy secretary of the state Agency of Development and Community Affairs.

Shouldice also said his agency would contact company officials to see if the state could help in finding a buyer for the mill.

State development officials in December had hoped to meet with Pluess-Staufer officials when it became apparent there was a pending deal to lease the Danby quarry to a European consortium. Officials were willing to help the company if possible, but Pluess-Staufer officials rebuffed the state’s overtures.

Proctor Town Selectman Charles Nichols said he got a call last week from Vermont Marble President John M. Mitchell informing him of the company’s decision.

Nichols blamed the closing not only on the economy, but on the state, which had required the company to adhere to a costly water discharge permit.

The financial impact on the town of Proctor won’t be immediately known. Pluess-Staufer owns an extensive amount of property in the town, which accounts for 20 percent of the tax base, according to Town Clerk Sydney Jones.

Jones said if the mill were to remain vacant Pluess-Staufer could approach the town about a reduction in taxes on the facility. In addition to the mill, Pluess-Staufer has its corporate headquarters in Proctor and Vermont Marble’s Power division, which supplies electricity to the plant and the town.