278 Jobless; Visalia bare root nursery closing
More than 200 people won’t have a job next year. After 73 years a family-owned business is now forced to shut down its bare root operation for good.
The owners of the company say it has struggled over the years and they saw no other option other than to close its tree and shrub nursery farm. They say despite hundreds now out of a job its employees are sticking behind them.
After decades of harvesting. The owners are telling 278 employees they're throwing in the towel.
CEO and General Manager, David Cox says his family and many of the people there have spent most of their lives working for the Visalia-based L.E. Cooke Company.
"An awful lot of people have been here 30-20 years. We've become a family. I work with them every day, I don't sit in the office and tell them what to do. I get out and do it with them," said Cox.
They say this will be their last harvest. Cox says full-time employees were offered incentives and the option to work through January.
" A number of them have said they want to stay. Not only for that but because they want to see it through the end," said Cox.
"I have one employee here who retired about 6 years ago. He is 69, he said, 'I am done'. He found out what happened and said, 'I must come back to work and finish it out with you'. The loyalty has been humbling," said Cox.
Cox says harvesting dry root trees is a tough job and the cost of labor is going up. He says the company tried to offset that by doing everything in-house from planting the seed to digging up trees. Then they shake off the dirt and wrap them in bundles that eventually get shipped to nurseries across the U.S and Canada. They say even with those changes. They decided to stop production.
"It's the hundreds of people I employee on a year-round basis and their family. Seasonal workers. Many of them which come back from year to year. It takes the income out of their pockets too. That is part of the thing we are sad about. We have always tried to provide a living wage for our employees and it just isn't working anymore," said Cox.
Owners of the business say they will continue to operate a separate business that makes the tape to tie plants to stakes as well as liner and grafting.