Temporary layoffs hit Nichols Brothers Boat Builders

Some employees at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland have been laid off temporarily, company officials confirmed Thursday. The layoffs are expected to last less than two months.

CEO John Collins said the “small layoff” this past week affected “dozens” of employees in several skill categories, but he declined to be specific because of the competitive nature of the business.

“It’s not the kind of information I want our competitors to have,” Collins said, but he added: “It’s not half the workforce, nothing like that.”

The company has maintained an employment level between 175 and 250 since emerging from bankruptcy in 2008.

Collins said that before the latest layoffs, the workforce numbered about 220.

“Sometimes we have to do what businesses have to do,” he said. “Our goal is to have everyone back to work in a couple of months.”

Collins said the layoffs were caused by the delayed arrival of a catamaran ferry from California, which is scheduled for refurbishment, creating a gap in the company’s workflow.

“We often have to do this in the wintertime,” he said. “We have to size our manpower to fit the yard.”

In November 2007, Nichols Brothers laid off its entire workforce after 43 years on Whidbey Island, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In 2008, the company was sold to Ice Floe, a corporation headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and was restructured. Nichols Brothers remains one of the largest private employers on Whidbey Island.

In the fall of 2008, the company laid off 30 employees when it lost a contract to build a new ferry for a California buyer.

Collins said workload ebb and flow is typical in the boat-building business, and that the company’s future remains bright.

He said the yard currently is refurbishing two other catamaran ferries from California, and is completing a barge project.

The firm also is finishing its portion of the state of Washington’s newest 64-car ferry.

Nichols Brothers is building the superstructure, with delivery to Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle expected this month.

Officials at Good Cheer Food Bank in Bayview said they should be able to accommodate an increase in visitors because of the latest Nichols layoffs.

“We expect to see a number of them in here. We usually do,” Jay Ryan, Good Cheer board president, said Thursday.

“In the past, we’ve been able to handle them, but we’ll make adjustments if necessary,” Ryan added. “That’s what we’re here for.”

Collins emphasized that he expects the layoffs to be short-lived.

“I’d love it if we didn’t have to do this,” he said. “We’ll be working hard to get work back in the yard.”


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