Local officials react as union says Fennimore battery plant will close

FENNIMORE, Wis. — The future of a major manufacturing plant in Grant County is looking grim following a union announcement that the Energizer plant in Fennimore is slated for closure.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters announced late Thursday that the Fennimore site is one of two anticipated closures in the state in the next 12 to 24 months, with the other being at the Energizer plant in Portage. The announcement said the two plants employ a combined 600 union workers.

“The company told workers and Teamster representatives it plans to offshore American manufacturing jobs and send others to a nonunion facility in North Carolina,” states a press release from the Teamsters.

Energizer Holdings Inc. shared a brief written statement with the Telegraph Herald on Friday but declined to comment further.

“Energizer Holdings is in communications with our colleagues and their union representatives about the future of our Fennimore and Portage facilities in Wisconsin,” the statement reads. “We will continue to focus on our colleagues — the people closest to this issue and who matter the most — as we work toward a final resolution.”

The battery factory has been in Fennimore since 1970, previously operating as Rayovac and Spectrum Brands. The plant “produces batteries for Energizer’s retail brands, including Eveready and Rayovac, as well as specialty batteries for hearing aids,” according to the Teamsters’ release.

The plant is one of the town’s largest employers. While the company has not confirmed its plans, local officials said the union’s announcement did not come as a shock.

“It’s been the talk around town for a while now,” said City Council Member Jeff Hagen. “It’s not really a surprise for anyone, but it’s sad to see it potentially close after so many years.”

Hagen added some employees have worked at the plant their whole careers and that any potential closure would no doubt have an impact on the local community.

Union spokesperson Kara Deniz said the Teamsters did not have any additional information to provide aside from the statement released Thursday, though she did say she believed there to be around 250 employees at the Fennimore plant who would be affected.

“Energizer is putting a plan in motion to kill hundreds of good jobs here in America and offshore them in favor of even bigger profits,” said Teamsters General President Sean O’Brien in the release. “Some workers have been in these factories for more than 40 years. The American public should be outraged by these plans.”

Sept. 30 marked the end of Energizer Holdings’ most recent fiscal year, during which it reported $3 billion in sales and $1.1 billion in profit.

Fennimore Community Development Manager Jessica Helms emphasized in a written statement that the closure was not final, adding that the city had received no direct communication or confirmation from Energizer on the matter as of Friday afternoon.

“The City of Fennimore, along with our local economic development officials, will continue to extend our support to Energizer as they evaluate operations and work through the decision-making process on the future of the Fennimore plant,” Helms’ statement reads. “… We remain hopeful that we will continue this relationship for years to come.”

Grant County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Ron Brisbois said he hoped to see the Energizer site remain open but that if it were to close, he believed there are enough open manufacturing positions in the county to absorb the affected workers.

He said he often points to the battery plant as a “quintessential example of advanced manufacturing in Grant County” and one of the largest manufacturing operations in the area.

He said he had been in recent conversation with Helms and the Teamsters and hoped to connect with Energizer’s corporate representatives soon, but he admitted there was only so much local advocates could do to sway the company, adding to a general sense of “frustration” with the whole situation.

“Unfortunately, that’s the way it is these days with fewer locally owned companies,” he said, referencing Energizer’s St. Louis headquarters. “If you want to talk to the people in charge, you need to buy a plane ticket.”