Business

K2 employees on slippery slope of unemployment

"America’s “best ski” still will be made on Vashon Island, but some of the people who made it--including employees commuting from the Port Orchard area and elsewhere in Kitsap County--will move from the production line to the unemployment line.K2 Inc., a company with humble beginnings on Vashon Island that now has 4,000 employees worldwide, announced Nov. 18 in a memo to employees a “significant downsizing” of its production and distribution facilities on Vashon. With an estimated 700 employees--depending on the season--K2 is the island’s largest private employer.A press release advised investors that it will cost $6.5 million for the company to downsize, and that the move should save the company $4 million next year and more in the future.Some low-end skis will now be made in Canton, China. High-end and mid-price snowboards will be produced in Corona, Calif., at a company K2 purchased in August.Non-production work is to remain on Vashon.Although company officials from Vashon to headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif. were declining lto give specific numbers of people who will be affected, John Rangel, vice president of finance, said few Vashon employees would be laid off because most have seniority.“The island will see little impact,” Rangel said, noting most of the Vashon employees have been with the company for years. Several Vashon employees confirmed that assessment. But even those employees who aren’t in jeopardy of losing their jobs did not want to be named and expressed uncertainty about their future.“It will probably hurt Port Orchard more by a long shot,” said one long-time employee.Several employees said the company announced as many as 200 full-time production workers and 160 temporary workers hired through Manpower, a Silverdale employment agency, may see pink slips before Christmas.The company’s Christmas party has been canceled.“It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. Nobody would have felt good about it,” said an employee.Employees were asked to volunteer to be laid off first. Nov. 29 was the deadline for people to step up to volunteer, according to a memo from human resources director Rob Moynan.“For each of the ones who volunteer, that will save someone else who doesn’t want to be laid off,” an employee said, noting there are several employees in their 60s and 70s who are eligible for retirement.K2 also is working with the state on assistance to employees because the job reductions are in part the result of foreign competition, the employee said. K2, a Fortune 500 company that once led the ski industry, now is second in terms of product sales in America. It competes with manufacturers worldwide that use cheaper labor.Other ski makers make products “in the Third World countries. We can’t compete against them any more on the lower-end products. American customers don’t care anymore,” said an employee who has been to K2’s China operation. “The plant in China is a nice plant. There’s a happy workforce there. They’ve got good working conditions. They get room and board and they make three times the annual salary of the rest of the Chinese.”Moynan, sitting in the lobby of K2 on Vashon in front of a large color photo of company founder Bill Kirschner, acknowledged the skis that SKI magazine will feature as the best in America in its December issue are made on Vashon by some of the very people who will be laid off."

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