Fingerhut workers in St. Cloud are relieved that Twin Cities investors Ted Deikel and Tom Petters have finally closed a deal to by the catalog company. It's uncertain just how many workers will be rehired at the sprawling one-million-square foot St. Cloud warehouse. But workers are confident that over time, the company will rehire most of the 2,600 workers it employed six months ago. Local leaders say no matter what happens, the sale is good for the St. Cloud economy.
Of the more than 2,600 employees at Fingerhut in St. Cloud just a few months ago, Dan Feiche was near the top when it comes to seniority.
Feiche ran a forklift in Fingerhut's warehouse for 20 years. His wife worked in the shipping department for 17 years. She was laid off in April.
Dan Feiche has been receiving severance pay for months. He's officially out of a paycheck in two weeks. So news that Ted Deikel and Tom Petters have purchased Fingerhut was a relief to him.
Deikel and Petters say they'll rehire workers in St. Cloud, but they don't know how many yet, and won't speculate. Feiche says he'd consider going back to Fingerhut.
"Probably, yeah. I guess I want to see what they are going to offer us for a contract and all of that. I'd like to know what kind of benefits we are all going to have or whatever. I think it'll be real comparable and I think I'll probably end up going back. But if it's really bad, then I guess I'll go start all over someplace else," Feiche says.
"But we do see, down the road, a favorable effect on the area economy with some of the elimination of the uncertainty with what was supposed to happen with Fingerhut."
- St. Cloud State economist Rich McDonald
Fingerhut's new owners are expected to meet with union officials in coming weeks to iron out a contract. The union hopes their workers get similar pay and benefits compared to what they had before they were laid off. And the union wants recall rights for its workers.
That means union workers would be considered first as positions are filled.
Jane Palmbach is with the union that represents St. Cloud's Fingerhut workers. She won't speculate on how many out-of-work employees will be hired back immediately. But she says it could take more than a year for the new Fingerhut to get up to speed.
"It's going to be new startup, so you do that at a particular pace," Palmbach says. "So I believe it will be a ramp-up, and hopefully as the business grows and expands, additional workers will be called back."
Some workers aren't waiting around for their old jobs. Kelly Mortenson worked in Fingerhut's shipping department for 19 years. After she was laid off in the spring, she took a part-time job. Then she enrolled in computer training. Now she says she is ready to try a new career.
"If Fingerhut were to call me back, I'd like to try something that I'd really like. And give it a fair opportunity to see if it's something that would be best for me to do - rather than go back to Fingerhut even if I was called back," she says.
There are jobs in St. Cloud for those laid-off Fingerhut workers who want to try something new.
St. Cloud State University economics professor Rich McDonald says the St. Cloud economy is surprisingly strong. McDonald says a recent survey of business owners shows a majority continue to hire new workers despite a mild recession.
And he says the fact that Fingerhut has been sold will continue to strengthen the local economy.
"Obviously we think there's going to be some months of dislocation for some of the Fingerhut workers going ahead at least a few months," McDonald says. "But we do see, down the road, a favorable effect on the area economy with some of the elimination of the uncertainty with what was supposed to happen with Fingerhut."
There's still some uncertainty surrounding Fingerhut. Many in St. Cloud say it could be years before the company employs the thousands of workers it once did. St. Cloud leaders say they can handle some uncertainty about the future of Fingerhut. But they're happy to know at least the company will still be around.More from MPR