Layoffs at Brattleboro Food Co-op traced back to Baybutt
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 18,2013
Len Emery Photo
The Brattleboro Food Co-Op was forced to lay off staff recently and says it was fallout from Baybutt Construction Co.’s financial problems.
BRATTLEBORO — The long arm of the financially troubled Baybutt Construction Co. has wrapped around the Brattleboro Food Co-op.
The co-op laid off 11 of its 170 full-time employees this week, and top managers have taken a 3 percent pay cut, said Alex Gyori, general manager of the co-op, who attributed much of the co-op’s revenue problem to Baybutt.
Baybutt was the general contractor for the $13 million construction project that built the new home for the co-op, as well as the two floors of apartments on top of the new co-op for the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust.
Gyori said Thursday that because construction of the new store was delayed by about seven months, the cash flow at the store for 2012 was reduced. And the problems with Baybutt, mostly for not paying its subcontractors, meant additional expenses for the co-op with legal bills and paying its clerk of the works and project manager for an additional seven months to sort out the mess, he said.
Baybutt, a well-respected construction company with headquarters in Keene, N.H., won the low bid for the Brattleboro project. But about a year ago things started going sour financially, Gyori said. Liens started being filed, but he said he believed the first lien had nothing to do with Baybutt.
He said the construction schedule fell behind, and when the co-op asked Baybutt to have its subcontractors bring on more people, they refused, telling the co-op they hadn’t been paid, or hadn’t been paid fully.
Gyori said that the recent unionization drive at the food co-op had no effect on the layoffs, and he hoped all of the workers would be called back eventually. He said some of the people laid off were already working at the co-op Thursday, filling in on a temporary basis.
He said the business had taken other steps, in addition to the layoffs, to address the revenue problems, including postponing some marketing plans and dues to national organizations.
The longtime general manager said the co-op had originally hoped to be in the new building April 2, but that it didn’t move in until June, and didn’t have its grand opening until November. The bigger problem was the parking lot construction, he said, which has driven down expected traffic in the store.
“So we got into the holiday season, barely got the parking lot done before Thanksgiving. The level of sales has increased, but we’re still not at that level,” said Gyori.
The co-op had expected to have six months to “grow our sales” to support the new staffing levels the new store had brought on, he said.
Retail sales traditionally lag after the holidays, he said, and the food co-op is no different. In previous years, the co-op relied on normal attrition to trim its work force after the holidays.
Gyori said the co-op’s bond insurance company took over the construction project about two months ago, and Gyori said until yesterday, there were Baybutt employees still working to tie up loose ends. But, he said, all Baybutt employees have been laid off.
The co-op’s bond company will pay all the subcontractors, he said. The final touches on the landscaping of the building and its new, large parking lot, won’t be in place until the spring. Other things that need to be done are mostly electrical or lighting issues, he said.
“Baybutt no longer exists as a construction company; they’ve laid off everybody,” said Gyori. The bonding company has taken over all the subcontractors. “The money’s there to be paid,” he said.
He said the co-op had still not formally declared Baybutt to be in default of the construction contract.
“But it’s coming very, very soon, maybe even today. There are no more people there to do the final punch list items and those things will get done by other people,” he said.
Both the town of Rockingham and the state of Vermont have declared Baybutt in default of construction contracts Baybutt has for the renovation of the Rockingham Free Public Library and the renovation of the state office building in downtown Brattleboro.