By Greg Means/Beacon Editor

The new Aludyne name is displayed at the Montague Operations at 5353 Wilcox, Montague.

MONTAGUE – COVID-19 has cast our country into an economic tailspin. All over America, businesses are struggling to stay alive, and unemployment has reached a level not seen since the Great Depression.

The most recent national report is shocking: over 40 million people out of work. And among the latest casualties are 40 from Montague.

Not 40 million, just 40. Which may seem like a tiny handful in the great scheme of things, but for Montague, it’s a significant number. And besides, to a single individual wondering how long he or she is going to be able to put food on the table, one is the biggest number.

On April 30, Aludyne, Inc., the Michigan-based international manufacturing company that makes lightweight car parts, laid off 40 workers at its Wilcox Street facility. The move was brutally sudden; city officials were notified of the decision the same day the layoffs went into effect.

In a letter to Montague Mayor Tom Lohman and the Workforce Development Agency State of Michigan, Human Resources Manager Alexandria DeStager stated, “Aludyne, Inc. will be permanently laying off 40 employees at its facility located in Montague, Michigan. Unforeseen business circumstances related to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic have necessitated execution of a permanent layoff…The changing economic conditions have led to a substantial and unexpected reduction in production forecasts…The affected employees will be permanently laid off effective April 30, 2020.”

The fact that the word “permanently” was used three times in three sentences is notable. The company had a point to make. This was not a furlough. This was not a temporary layoff. This was the axe.

In an interview with MLive, Sarah Shank, a machine operator who had worked at Aludyne for five years, said that she was among those originally furloughed in conjunction with production slowdowns at General Motors, Chrysler and Fiat. Aludyne has been directly impacted by the Detroit automakers’ decisions because they serve them with equipment parts.

Montague was not the only location that was impacted. According to Jenifer Zbiegien, Vice-President of Human Resources and Marketing for Aludyne, which is headquartered in Southfield, Mich., “Aludyne will be implementing temporary layoffs at all of our locations in North America and Europe. These temporary layoffs will help us protect the health and safety of our employees as well as the financial health of our business.”

It turned out, however, that even the term “temporary” was temporary. On April 25, Shank and her colleagues were informed that they would be permanently terminated on April 30—and so would their insurance benefits. And while Aludyne assured them that should the situation improve, they were welcome to reapply at the company, their current salary and job status would, unfortunately, not be honored. Should Shank be re-hired, it would be at starting wage—not at her current pay rate, reflecting her seniority, of $16.05 an hour.

“I liked the people, and the machining,” she said. “They just stole it from me.”

In an interview with the Beacon, Montague City Manager Jeff Auchs said he’s still trying to get information from Aludyne regarding the actual extent of the layoffs.

“It sounds like it’s even larger than 40,” Auchs noted. “I know of 43, but it could be as many as 100. And it sounds like it’s affected everybody, from management to the floor workers.”

Indeed, when the Beacon tried to contact HR Manager DeStager, her voicemail said it all. “I have been temporarily laid off.”

Was Auchs surprised by the suddenness of the layoffs?

“I was more surprised by the number of individuals,” he admitted. “That was shocking. But I wasn’t surprised by the actual layoffs, because of how the pandemic has affected the auto industry in Michigan.”

The impact of the layoffs on the community remains to be seen, Auchs says.

“A lot of our community is already struggling. It will be interesting to see what the next 12 to 18 months brings.”