Sock maker Darn Tough closes factory; workers will receive full pay and benefits

  • At Darn Tough, spools of multicolored wool and nylon are strung into computerized machines that knit the yarns into socks. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

Published: 3/17/2020 11:02:30 PM
Modified: 3/17/2020 11:03:41 PM

NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Darn Tough Vermont, the Northfield-based sock maker, is shutting down its manufacturing operations through March 27 to minimize the risk of COVID-19. Workers will receive full pay and benefits during that time, said Brooke Kaplan, the company’s director of marketing.

Company officials considered advice from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state of Vermont before making the decision. Employees who can work from home will be doing so.

“We are able to keep business open from a remote perspective, but those who are on the production floor are all being asked to stay out of the building,” Kaplan said Tuesday.

Darn Tough Vermont employs about 350 people in its Northfield plant and in a new manufacturing facility in Waterbury. It finished moving some of its corporate offices into the new building Friday.

Workers around Vermont are being laid off from their jobs as stores, restaurants and other employers close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, a virus that first made an appearance in China in December and has spread rapidly around the world. As of Tuesday, Vermont had 12 confirmed cases. The pace of those layoffs has accelerated rapidly in the last several days. On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott ordered all bars and restaurants to limit their service to takeout or delivery or to close altogether until April 6, effective Tuesday.

Laid-off workers — and their employers — are now flooding the state Department of Labor with queries about unemployment insurance, and lawmakers are working with the Scott administration to come up with ways of providing financial relief during the crisis.

Kaplan said Darn Tough’s owner, Ric Cabot, decided to keep paying the company’s manufacturing employees at least until March 27, when the closure itself will be re-evaluated. She said Cabot reviewed the financial impact and is comfortable that Darn Tough, which has expanded greatly in recent years, can absorb the cost.

“We’re continuing to grow, and we’re looking at the very near-term health of the business all the way to the long-term health of the business, and finding the right balance,” Kaplan said.

So far, most major Vermont employers have asked employees to work remotely if they can, and are continuing their manufacturing operations. State Economic Development Commissioner Joan Goldstein said Tuesday she hadn’t heard of any other companies in the state that had sent manufacturing workers home.

“But that does not mean they’re not already thinking about things of that nature,” she said. “This is an unprecedented situation.”

The National Association of Manufacturers has asked Congress to take steps that would help manufacturing employers fight the financial damage that is accompanying the pandemic. Among other things, the association is calling for a tax credit that would go to employers who continue to pay workers who are quarantined or when businesses are forced to close; new protections for employers who want to ask workers about their health as it relates to COVID-19; and more guidance from the CDC on cleaning processes, plant closures and quarantines.

Darn Tough planned to shut down its mill operations at the end of the day Tuesday, Kaplan said.

“It doesn’t matter what part of the business you work in, we have a responsibility to contain the virus as quickly as we can. We want to maintain the health of our employees, our community, our state, our country and our world.”

Decisions related to containing the coronavirus have been happening rapidly, particularly in the last few days, which have seen the closing of colleges, the closing of Vermont ski areas, and then — effective tomorrow — the decision to move all K-12 learning to a remote model. The Canadian border has also been closed, and scores of restaurants were closing Tuesday.

“We were staying open as of Friday,” Kaplan said. “Schools were open. This is moving so rapidly. We’re working to be as responsive as we can.”




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