Amazon’s distributor leaving RI for Hartford; 149 layoffs

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NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A company that helps Amazon.com handle distribution in Rhode Island abruptly informed employees Friday it will shut down next month, Eyewitness News has learned.

The Texas-based company, Pinnacle Logistics, will lay off 149 workers, according to a letter sent to the R.I. Department of Labor and Training by Mark Elsea, the company’s chief operating officer. Pinnacle has had a busy warehouse operation at the Quonset Business Park and T.F. Green Airport.

“It has been a pleasure working in Rhode Island,” Elsea wrote. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Amazon confirmed that Pinnacle’s operation will be moving to Bradley International Airport in Hartford, and workers at the Rhode Island facility will be given preferential treatment in hiring. (A spokesman for Bradley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

“We are always evaluating our operations and want to thank the T.F. Green Airport and the entire community for their partnership and support,” Harry Hartfield, a spokesman for Amazon, said in a statement.

The termination letter, provided by an employee who asked to remain anonymous, said Amazon “has elected to terminate its PVD operations” due to “business reasons unrelated to PVD’s performance.” The employee said workers were stunned by the news in light of how busy and high-performing the facility appeared to them.

Pinnacle told employees it “will be permanently ceasing operations” in Rhode Island at 10 p.m. on July 31. “Pinnacle is as sad to see PVD go as you are,” the letter said. The company offered to pay workers an additional three-week retention bonus if they agree to stay through the end.

Last fall, state officials said Pinnacle planned to hire roughly 300 people after leasing about 78,000 square feet of space at the airport and another 147,000 square feet at Quonset. Some of those workers were laid off after the Christmas shipping season.

Pinnacle did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. No one answered the phone at Pinnacle’s corporate offices.

State officials had said last fall Pinnacle planned to develop “a permanent facility in the near future on the airport premises,” and it’s unclear why the company changed its mind. T.F. Green spokesman Bill Fischer said the airport learned of Pinnacle’s decision Friday morning.

“Obviously, we are disappointed with this news, but understand aviation is an uncertain market and it is not uncommon for both cargo and passenger airlines to make market adjustments,” Fischer said in a statement. “We hope to have a future opportunity to convince them to come back to T.F. Green.”

A union, Local 251 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, filed a complaint against Pinnacle with the National Labor Relations Board last November that resulted in a settlement, according to Marc Gursky, a lawyer for the Teamsters. The complaint alleged Pinnacle had fired three employees who were trying to unionize the Rhode Island facility.

“I know Amazon is a notoriously anti-union company and has been fighting unions in its various facilities since 1994, so it would not surprise me to learn that Amazon and Pinnacle decided to close this operation in retaliation for the union activity,” Gursky told Eyewitness News.

Gursky said the Teamsters filed a new complaint against Pinnacle on Friday afternoon, alleging that the company had engaged in unfair labor practice by closing the plant to retaliate for the unionization effort.

The Teamsters said Elsea, the Pinnacle executive, threatened to close the facility during a meeting last December if the employees continued trying to organize.

DLT spokeswoman Nora Crowley said the agency learned of the Pinnacle layoffs on Friday morning and has reached out to offer Rapid Response services to affected employees.

Just weeks ago, Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor was expressing optimism about Amazon’s future relationship with Rhode Island in light of conversations state leaders had with the e-commerce giant after it rejected their proposal to host its second headquarters.

Appearing on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last month, Pryor said his conversation with Amazon was largely positive, with praise for Rhode Island’s “creative” and “very responsive” proposal. “They said, ‘Well, you’ll be hearing from us in the future’ – and indeed we have,” Pryor said. “We’ve had conversations with them. We continue to have conversations with them, very actively.”

A spokesman for Pryor said after Pinnacle’s closure announcement, “We remain in discussions with Amazon regarding additional possibilities.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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