Alcatel-Lucent plant may leave Charlotte

Nearly 225 local telecommunications workers could lose their jobs if union negotiations over cost-saving measures fail.

Alcatel-Lucent, an international firm that makes phone switching equipment at its Charlotte plant, is looking to close the facility to reduce operating costs, said company spokeswoman Denise Panyik-Dale.

The company would look to move operations to a more cost-efficient plant, likely at the Arizona-Mexico border.

“We are in discussions with the union, but it is too early to say what is happening,” she said Thursday.

The company told workers early last week about its tentative plans to close the facility. Under a contract, management must give the union the opportunity to come up with a cost-saving strategy. Nearly 195 of the employees at the plant are part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), Local 3695.

Sammy Aragon, president of the local and an employee at the plant, said that negotiations could take four to six months.

Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent operates 17 manufacturing facilities in nine countries. The company manufactures and repairs telephone systems for global telecommunication providers and has 77,000 employees in 130 countries.

Two years ago, similar negotiations over cost-cutting took place between Continental Tire North America and union members. When negotiations failed, more than 500 employees were laid off. Production was moved to a nonunionized plant in Illinois.

Panyik-Dale says that if the plant in Charlotte is closed, production could be moved to the company's plant in Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. The plant in Nogales has 830 workers and is not unionized.

While Mecklenburg County loses nearly 50 foreign companies a year, there is usually a net gain in companies, said Tony Crumbley, vice president of research for economic development at the Charlotte Chamber. One of the targets of the chamber is to bring in more foreign-owned companies, and it has actively recruited in Europe.

While it is never good to lose a job, Crumbley said, as long as more jobs are created, the community as a whole should be fine. “I don't want to take it lightly, but from an overall economic perspective companies come and companies go,” he said.