YARMOUTH — Brenda Fecteau said she has been struggling to find work ever since Cuddledown’s call center at 14 Yarmouth Junction shut down Feb. 2.
She is one of 26 employees affected by the closing.
“Nothing like going into work on a Friday (to) work for a couple hours (before) they shut down for a meeting … telling us they’re closing down, no notice of any kind,” Fecteau said Feb. 15.
In the week since the shutdown became public, there has been little communication from either the company or the Maine Department of Labor about the timing of the closing, when DOL became aware of it, and the information provided to DOL by Potpourri Group, the North Billerica, Massachusetts-based catalog retailer that bought the previously family-owned business in 2013.
According to representatives from Potpourri Group, the closure was due to a labor shortage in Maine and service needs at the company’s other locations.
Manufacturing operations at 14 Yarmouth Junction are continuing and the company’s outlet store, at 554 U.S. Route 1 in Freeport, remains open.
Labor Department spokeswoman Laura Hudson on Feb. 20 said a Rapid Response session would be held Wednesday, Feb. 21, at the Greater Portland CareerCenter, 151 Jetport Blvd., Portland. Former Cuddledown employees would be provided with information about similar employment opportunities in the area, options for health insurance, overview of CareerCenter services and how to file for unemployment assistance.
In a Feb. 14 email, Stefanie Swalgen, vice president of human resources for Potpourri, said two employees are already working in different departments and three others are interviewing for other positions in the company.
“The other call center representatives have the option of transferring to another location if they wish to relocate,” she added.
Yarmouth was Cuddledown’s only call center in Maine. According to Fecteau, the company’s other call centers are in Massachusetts and the Philippines, but Swalgen did not respond to a request to confirm that information.
On Feb. 12, Hudson said the Bureau of Employment Services had not heard anything regarding the closing of the Yarmouth call center 10 days earlier.
However, on Feb. 9, Marty Perlmutter, DOL Southern Maine Rapid Response coordinator, sent an email to Swalgen saying “in this situation with layoffs occurring in call center/customer service departments in Maine and with the capabilities for those services at a facility in the Philippines it seems to me that it’s certainly worthy of a petition for Trade Act benefits.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program is a federal program established under the Trade Act of 1974 that provides aid to workers who lose their jobs or whose hours of work and wages are reduced as a result of increased imports.
Program petitions can be filled out and submitted by a company official, three laid-off workers, or a state CareerCenter representative, such as Perlmutter.
Swalgen responded to Perlmutter’s email on Feb. 13, saying “the Maine Cuddledown facility has not been closed and there are absolutely no plans to close the facility in the future. These are false rumors and have no merit whatsoever.”
Hudson, of the DOL, did not respond to questions about whether there may have been confusion about what was being closed: the call center, the Freeport outlet store or the manufacturing facility in Yarmouth.
Fecteau said she hasn’t heard anything from the company since being laid off. When asked if she would apply for another position at Cuddledown, Fecteau said she was “not looking to move out of state” and didn’t believe any of the other Maine-based positions were reasonable options.
“I think the other positions (in the manufacturing space) require a college degree,” Fecteau said. “And the store in Freeport, I don’t think they would put 26 people there.”
The way Fecteau sees it, her job and her coworkers’ jobs were given “to call centers overseas.”
“I felt bad for those in Yarmouth who had been there for a long time. There were tears and hugging going on,” she said. “I was only part time and was there almost a year and liked my job.”
Cuddledown’s call center at 14 Yarmouth Junction closed Feb. 2 due to labor shortages, according to the company. The state Department of Labor planned a Rapid Response session for former employees Wednesday, Feb. 21, in Portland.