Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul and her allies at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are attacking Republican Chris Collins for alleged job losses resulting from his purchase of Buffalo China.
The claims in the ads are mostly false.
Hochul and Collins are competing in the 27th Congressional District, and recent polls indicate the race is close.
When Collins purchased the Bailey Avenue plant in 2004 for $5.5 million from Oneida Ltd., which already had announced the plant would be shuttered, the union was dissolved and health care benefits were not as generous.
The plant was purchased with a combination of Collins’ personal capital, bank financing and tax incentives.
The Hochul ad has so disturbed Collins that a lawyer for his campaign on Tuesday called the man featured in the ad, Thomas Boyce, and warned Boyce that the campaign was exploring its legal options.
Boyce, a former Buffalo China worker, talks on camera about Collins’ firing 115 people when Collins bought the plant and opened Niagara Ceramics.
What Boyce does not mention is that, by his own choice, he left the company months before Collins was ever involved in the plant.
“Chris Collins put the money in his pocket,” Boyce says in the ad. “He doesn’t care about people; he cares about himself. Chris Collins, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
Boyce on Tuesday said he believes everything he said in the ad and that he’s a “true-blue Democrat.”
“I’m a true believer of union labor. That’s one of the biggest interests I have in this,” he said.
Boyce said Collins’ lawyer said he wouldn’t be sued if he signed something refuting the ad’s claims, which he refused to do.
The Collins campaign denied making threats but confirmed that it is exploring all of its legal options and that it is a matter the campaign takes seriously.
Hochul spokesman Francis Thomas said the Collins campaign is going after a middle-class Western New Yorker.
“He’s trying to intimidate someone out of telling his story,” Thomas said.
The Hochul ad makes these claims:
Claim: “When Chris Collins took over the place, he fired 115 people as soon as he walked in.” The ad from national Democrats said Collins “laid off more than 100 workers.”
Fact: These claims are false. According to Robert Lupica, who was a senior vice president with Oneida and was part of a management team that recruited Collins to invest in a new company at the Buffalo China plant after Oneida had announced plans to close it, Collins did not fire anyone.
“It’s false from the standpoint that Oneida Ltd. in 2003 said that they would get out of manufacturing facilities,” said Lupica, who is now president and CEO of Niagara Ceramics. “The old factory and its connection to Oneida Ltd. closed, and we hired people.”
While Buffalo China employed about 325 people, or more, that company laid workers off, not Niagara Ceramics, Lupica said.
Several news stories from October and November 2003 detailed Oneida’s plans to shutter the plant. Collins and his team did not purchase the plant until March 2004.
Boyce said he had “no knowledge” of whether the plant was going to be shut down by Oneida, but that the plant was full until Collins bought it.
Buffalo China had at least 325 workers, Lupica said, when Oneida closed the plant in March 2004. When it reopened under a new name, Niagara Ceramics, the company hired 240 new workers and even held job fairs, he said.
“If Chris hadn’t backed the management team for the buyout, there are no jobs there,” he said.
Boyce, in an interview, conceded that Collins played a role in saving some jobs.
“Did he save a couple jobs and make them low-end jobs? I guess you could say that,” he said.
Claim: “For the people who were lucky enough to stay there, he cut their pay in half.”
Fact: This claim is somewhat misleading. A Buffalo News article from February 2004 notes that pay was cut for hourly workers from $12 to $8 or $9. Lupica said other people’s pay was increased because they wanted to attract key people from Buffalo China to work at the new company.
Health benefits were also made less generous.
The plant employs about 110 people today, said Lupica, who attributed the lower number of jobs to the recession and noted that the company is one of just two major producers of commercial-quality dinnerware in the United States. Niagara Ceramics supplies popular chain restaurants and nursing homes, and it makes dinnerware used at the Roycroft Inn and Darwin Martin House.