NECCO Employees Prepare for Future

Less than 100 NECCO employees are biding their time, facing layoffs on May 4. At one time the bustling plant on American Legion Highway employed 400 people and made iconic candies known around the world.

Now the plant is producing only the famous wafers. Owners are hoping for a buyer by May 6, but so far a buyer has not been found.

The company did conduct a hiring campaign a couple of months ago to make sure that there were enough employees to finish out the season. One employee interviewed had only been with NECCO (New England Confectionary Company) for three months.

Last Thursday officials from the state unemployment office came in to educate employees on how to file for unemployment benefits. According to employees there is a pension system through the union, but once the plant closes there won’t be any contributions. At this point no one knows which bankruptcy chapter NECCO will file for.

The 171-year-old confectionary company moved to 135 American Legion Highway in 2003 after being in Cambridge for many years.

Mike DiCocco, the representative of the Machinists Union District 15, said he has about 24 members at NECCO each day.

“These men have a certain trade for the specialized NECCO equipment,” he said.

Some of the machines used for the classic NECCO wafers and the candy hearts date back to the 1940s and ’50s.

The makers of NECCO wafers, candy conversation hearts, Clark Bars, and a dozen other candy products, reported steady revenues in 2005 of $100 million. In 2010 NECCO was listed for sale with a New York broker, but then the listing was pulled in 2011.

“It’s a sign of the times. People aren’t eating as much candy,” DiCocco said. “The union has always had a decent relationship with NECCO

“It’s a shame. They had a chance to make it good here and they failed,” said Quincy resident and 17-year employee Jim Peluso.

He got his start with the company when it was on Mass Ave. in Cambridge. He will leave the company as a first-class maintenance mechanic, maintaining and running the equipment for the sugar system and chocolate plant.

It’s been tough for him and others to go to work knowing what’s coming down the line. Employees come from all around from Revere to Lynn and even Holbrook.

“It’s been very tough. Everyone has been forced to take their vacations. A lot of people were banking on having checks in the end,” Peluso said.

Last year Atlantic Management Corp. purchased the 810,000 square-foot building and the 55-acre site for $54.5 million. Atlantic Management Corp. owns and manages more than 5 million square feet of commercial properties in New England.

The confectionary business will close if a buyer is not found by May 6. All but one row of cars in the parking lot belong to NECCO employees, the rest are part of airport rental programs.

Lee Barney, of Lynn has been working for a year and a half as a packaging mechanic, making sure the machinery packages the candy properly.

“I think everyone’s sense is that we’ve got to go find new jobs. No one’s going to wait around for this place to make up its mind and see what happens. Everybody has a family to feed,” Barney said.

Employee Kenny Lopes, a flavor technician in quality control, said the past few months of the nine years he’s worked for NECCO have been rough.

“We were on an 18-month lease and said they were going to expand, but they lied to us,” Lopes said. “Basically, I’m leaving here with nothing, no severance pay. I started at the bottom and made myself to corporate. I should have stayed in the union.”

“The one thing that sucks about this is that there are a lot of people here who come from another country and they raise their families in this place and now there won’t be anything,” Barney said. “Some of these women have been here 30 or 40 years. The guy I replaced had been here 44 years. He trained me and then he retired. There are a lot of families working here.”

Telephone calls to CEO Mike Magee were not returned.

People have been questioning what will happen to the candy recipes and how they can create their own stockpile.

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