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Woonsocket's Van Dyke Taxidermy hit with layoffs

WOONSOCKET — When Amy Miiller walked into Van Dyke's Taxidermy Supply during her 19th year of work, she was immediately met with some bad news.

And Miiller was not alone.

Van Dyke's, which is owned by North Carolina-based McKenzie Taxidermy Supply, shuffled Miiller and approximately 15 other employees into a meeting room Monday morning to inform them they would no longer have jobs at one of Woonsocket's largest employers.

"It was devastating," Miiller said. "It was like a death, and it's a death for our community of Woonsocket. I mean, what are we going to do without that business here?"

Miiller arrived at 7 a.m., and she was told by her boss to enter one of two meeting rooms. One of those meeting rooms, Miiller said, contained employees who would be retained. But Miiller said she was shuttled in before the "firing squad."

Neither Van Dyke's nor McKenzie was available for comment Monday afternoon, but Miiller said she is aware of at least 10 other employees who were laid off.

After speaking to several employees who had been laid off, Woonsocket Mayor Lindy Peterson was also uncertain about the total job loss caused by Monday's decision.

"Not for certain," Peterson said. "I talked to a lot of employees, and they don't seem to know either."

While Miiller was not surprised about the mass layoffs, she was caught off guard by the timing.

"You know, we knew it was coming, we just didn't think it was going to be today," Miiller said.

Miiller, who has worked at Van Dyke's since Oct. 1997, said employees have been nervous about their jobs since McKenzie purchased the Woonsocket plant from Gridiron Capital and Cabela's in 2009. When she arrived at work Monday morning, Miiller was told Van Dyke's sales had dropped 50 percent since the 2009 purchase.

According to Miiller and others who were employed at Van Dyke's as late as Monday morning, McKenzie had semi trucks at the plant and were loading equipment to be transported to other McKenzie-owner properties. As the trucks were being filled, Miiller said many longtime Van Dyke's employees close to retirement age were left realizing they would need to find another job.

"It really hurts when you come into work and you're not expecting it," Miiller said. "And of course they give you no warning, because that's how McKenzie operates."

At least one other Woonsocket resident had concerns about McKenzie Taxidermy Supply when it purchased one of Woonsocket's largest employers in 2009.

Richard Reider, a Woonsocket city councilman, said Van Dyke's was one of the largest employers in town alongside Santel Communications. But, Reider said, the company has slowly reduced its employee base over the past few years.

"I was scared of this happening when that company bought it," Reider said.

And from what Peterson's heard, Monday's layoffs may not be the final move by McKenzie. Peterson said a full closure of the plant is now on the horizon.

"In time, it's going to be all of it the way it sounds," Peterson said.

Peterson first heard of the layoffs while driving to a dentist appointment Monday at approximately 9 a.m. He was told the same story presented by Miiller, that employees were split into two groups, with one of those groups being told they would be let go.

Peterson's initial reaction was disappointment for the younger employees at the plant who would be without a job to provide for their families.

"I felt real sorry for the young people with young families that have to find a new job and stuff," Peterson said. "It will be a setback for them a long ways."

Miiller, 45, is one of those employees left trying to provide for her family without the benefit of a job.

"Well, I'll start looking for a job, because I have two children that I need to support and I need insurance," Miiller said about her next step. "And they only gave us insurance through the end of September, so that gives me, what, five days and then I'll have no insurance? I basically have nothing."

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