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Irish Town Hit Hard by Dollar's Decline

January 05, 1988|Associated Press

WATERFORD, Ireland — The fall of the American dollar has dealt a shattering blow to this grim port city known around the world for its fine crystal.

The sharp drop in the currency, which makes pricey imports even more expensive in the United States, has forced Waterford Glass Group PLC to cut more than 1,000 jobs at its crystal division, or about one-third of the work force.

While Waterford isn't the only European luxury goods maker feeling the pinch of a cheaper dollar, the effect is especially severe for this company, which is arguably Ireland's most famous enterprise and one of the country's biggest employers.

'Body Blow'

Waterford relies on American purchases of its crystal--ranging from decanters and goblets to sports trophies and chandeliers--for most of its sales. The company hasn't cut jobs, or even work schedules, in at least a quarter of a century.

The city of Waterford, with 40,000 residents, will be hit hard. Unemployment already runs at about 20% here, in a country notorious for its dearth of opportunity for young job hunters.

J. Patrick Hayes, the Waterford group's chairman, calls the dollar's slide "traumatic." Waterford Mayor David Daniels labels it "a body blow."

The immediate effect was felt by the 950 people who walked out the gates for the last time during the past few months.

Extensive Cuts

Seven hundred workers took a settlement to leave the company voluntarily, and 250 opted for early retirement. The remaining 50 or so will leave the division's three glass factories that operate within a 15-mile radius of Waterford, the company said.

Billy Flynn, a 47-year-old master glass blower who took early retirement in October after 31 years of service, said about his last day: "I was fairly choked up, so I didn't tell anybody I was going. It was like walking off the edge of the world."

The extent of the job cuts, first announced on June 30, took the workers by surprise.

"We didn't realize the news to come would be as hard as it was," said Michael Power, a senior official with the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union.

Waterford Glass' crystal sales fell 27% to 33.8 million Irish pounds ($55.1 million) in the first six months of 1987 from a year earlier.

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