Two federal lawmakers urged Olin Corp. on Wednesday to reconsider its possible plans to move 1,000 jobs from its ammunition-making operation in Illinois to Mississippi, cautioning the company to be mindful of their efforts in Washington to steer business in its direction.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Jerry Costello, in a letter to Olin President and CEO Joseph Rupp, pressed for a meeting to discuss the company's plans to shift its Winchester ammunition division's Centerfire production from East Alton, a village 20 miles northeast of St. Louis, to Oxford, Miss.
The legislators suggested they deserved the courtesy, saying they worked hard on Capitol Hill to help Olin get sizable government contracts. Those deals included supplying Winchester munitions to the Army and a $54 million deal the lawmakers called "the largest ammunition contract in the history of federal law enforcement," the letter said.
"Whenever Winchester needed help in Washington, we were quick to respond with good results," Durbin and Costello wrote. "That is why the preliminary decision to close the facilities came as a surprise to us and local stakeholders, many of whom have been working with or for the company for decades."
The lawmakers questioned the need to relocate, insisting "the Winchester division appears to be far from struggling" in light of Olin's recent announcement that the unit recently posted its second-best quarterly earnings in its history. During the latest April-through-June period, the company reported Winchester sales of $147.7 million, up $7 million over the same span last year.
Clayton, Mo.-based Olin, which also makes specialty chemicals, announced the possible move earlier this month with little public elaboration, stunning Illinois lawmakers and the operation's union-represented workers.
Valerie Peters, a spokeswoman for Olin's Winchester division, said Wednesday that no decision has been made as to when or if the division would move. She said talks were continuing between the company and "key stakeholders," including union workers. She added that Olin would be willing to discuss the matter with Durbin and Costello.
Durbin and Costello warned that moving the Centerfire line and the jobs could further erode the job scene in East Alton, home to about 7,000 residents, and the rest of Madison County, where unemployment already surpasses 10 percent.
Word that the Centerfire jobs may be heading south prompted East Alton's mayor, along with other elected and business leaders, to scramble to meet with state officials to pinpoint any assistance for Olin that would encourage the Winchester operation to stay put.
It wouldn't be the first time Olin moved jobs out of Illinois. Several years ago, the company shifted the manufacturing of its Rimfire line — the .22-caliber devices that propel power tools such as nail guns — to Mississippi, along with 150 jobs. The company claimed it was a cost-saving measure.