AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - Hundreds of employees at the MasterBrand Cabinets plant in Auburn reported to work Tuesday morning and abruptly found themselves laid off, the plant permanently closed effective at noon.
"It was a normal workday," recalled Sabretia Hunt. She was in the room when the company delivered the devastating news.
"And there was a lady who literally broke down in tears," Hunt explained. "She just bought a home, just closed a deal on a home and she broke down."
Hunt had worked at the plant for about a year, along with her mother. She, too, recently made a big purchase. Now she has a week-old, $16,000 car payment to make and no job.
She said she felt horrible for those who'd been there much longer. "I know people that come every day, miss a day," Hunt went on. "They're workin', slavin' and sweatin' in there."
Emily Small with the company's corporate office in Jasper, Indiana, confirmed the plant closure and said 445 employees were affected. She said the company is offering severance pay, health benefits and help with job placement.
The corporate office released this statement:
MasterBrand Cabinets, the largest cabinet manufacturer in North America, opened the Auburn plant opened in 1999. It was located at 300 Webster Road at the Auburn Industrial Park off Martin Luther King Dr.
It wasn't long ago that business was on the way up. An October 2015 report by WSFA 12 News focused on the announcement of a large expansion of the plant, with the addition of a third shift that promised 150 new jobs by mid-2016. Now, it's all gone.
"Just gotta keep going," Hunt lamented. And keep going she will, getting back in the saddle in her Chevy Camaro and seeing what other job there is to find down the road.
Small said the company is complying with all requirements of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN Act. The federal regulation requires employers to give 60 days notice in regard to plant closings and mass layoffs.
The Alabama Department of Commerce said it wasn't aware of the closure until Tuesday morning and there were no listings for the company on the state's WARN List.
David Niesen with the Dislocated Workers Unit of the ADOC's Workforce Development Section said the department was reaching out to the company to offer re-employment services to employees.
Niesen said a meeting will be set up with MasterBrand employees to give them information about services and funding through the federal government that may be available. A time and date for the meeting have not yet been set up.
In addition to employees of the plant, the City of Auburn was also caught off guard by the closure.
"We are extremely disappointed to hear that this longtime Auburn industry has decided to close its doors, but we are most concerned about finding a place for the more than 400 people who lost their jobs today," Auburn Mayor Bill Ham said. "We are committed to helping these individuals find meaningful employment, and I am confident that our Workforce Development Division will do everything in its power to help them find new jobs."
A staffing agency and the city are also helping those who lost their jobs find new employment.