1,450 Blue Bell workers losing jobs after listeria problems

BRENHAM, TX (KTRK) -- For the last 34 years, Jeanette Miles walked down her neighborhood block and began her daily work at the Blue Bell Plant.

"Most of the time, we'd be going in at like 3:30 in the morning, getting off at twelve o'clock. But it was alright."

Her routine stops tonight. Miles is one of 250 Blue Bell employees laid off in Brenham. She found out Friday afternoon.

"Everybody hugged each other when we left today," Miles said, "Very upset and stuff."

Local Blue Bell Spokesman Joe Robertson said both plants in Brenham - the original creamery and the newer one - have been closed since April. He is not sure when they will be able to start up production again.

"For the 300 employees that were furloughed today, we expect them to return when we start making ice cream again," Robertson said, "Beyond that, we can't commit to anything."

The company, whose production plants remain closed, said 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time workers nationwide are losing their jobs. That represents about 37 percent of its 3,900 employees. Another 1,400 workers will be furloughed but will still receive a substantial portion of their current pay. Employees essential to ongoing cleanup and repair efforts will continue working but have their pay reduced, Blue Bell said. Workers at distribution centers in 10 states will also be laid off.

Blue Bell CEO and President Paul Kruse called the decision to layoff and furlough workers "agonizing."

"At Blue Bell, our employees are part of our family, and we did everything we could to keep people on our payroll for as long as possible. At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future," Kruse said.

Robertson said long-time employees like Miles are welcome to reapply when the time comes - whenever that may be.

Miles will start looking for a part time job to make ends meet. She'll miss Blue Bell.

"I just liked to work at Blue Bell, I guess," Miles said, "That was the first job I ever had since I got out of high school, and I been there since."

She hopes to get her old job back.

"I guess one day," Miles said, "I hope. I don't know."

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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