Blue Bell Creameries is facing the worst public relations crisis in its 108-year history. Since the deaths of three Kansas hospital patients were linked to listeria contamination in its ice cream, Blue Bell has pulled all of its products from shelves nationwide. To make matters worse, last week the Houston Chronicle reported that Blue Bell knew about its listeria problem as far back as early 2013. And now, to top it all off, Blue Bell is severing more than 1,000 workers.
In a note on its website titled “An Agonizing Decision,” Blue Bell said Friday it will lay off roughly 750 full-time employees and 700 part-time employees—all in all, 37 percent of its 3,900-person workforce. Another 1,400 or so employees will be furloughed until the company's production resumes, Blue Bell said, putting nearly three-quarters of its staff out of commission. Finally, the company said employees who are “essential to ongoing operations and cleaning and repair efforts will continue to work but have their pay reduced.” Ouch.
“The agonizing decision to lay off hundreds of our great workers and reduce hours and pay for others was the most difficult one I have had to make,” Paul Kruse, Blue Bell’s president and CEO, said in statement. “At the same time, we have an obligation to do what is necessary to bring Blue Bell back and ensure its viability in the future.”
At this point, you have to assume Blue Bell is pretty much financially broken. The company is privately held, so it’s tough to know for sure, but firing more than a third of your employees and putting another huge chunk on indefinite hold is a desperate measure—as is cutting the pay of the truly essential people who are cleaning up your huge listeria mess. That job already sounds gross. A pay cut just makes it worse.