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GRAND RAPIDS — Long Road Distillers LLC has laid off 50 employees — almost its entire workforce — following a state order limiting bars and restaurants to take-out and delivery business.
Long Road co-owner Jon O’Connor, who also serves on the Grand Rapids City Commission, told MiBiz Tuesday the decision was to ensure employees could maintain reliable income through unemployment benefits.
“We made the hard decision yesterday to essentially lay off all of our front-of-house and kitchen staff,” O’Connor said. “It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make as business owners. Everyone will qualify for unemployment, we hope.”
The move follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order closing restaurants and bars and limiting them to take-out or delivery. On Monday, Whitmer issued another executive order expanding unemployment benefits for those affected by the closings. The March 16 order also says employers won’t be charged for unemployment benefits if workers become unemployed as a result of an executive order requiring them to close or reduce operations.
“The governor’s order about their willingness to contribute to the unemployment side was a big relief,” O’Connor said.
It’s the first time Long Road has had layoffs, and O’Connor was unclear how much Whitmer’s order saves the company.
Two production employees remain at Long Road, which is maintaining its distribution operations.
While Long Road serves food, its primary business involves cocktails. O’Connor said the layoffs decision was about ensuring employees maintain reliable income amid the industry uncertainty.
His sentiments were echoed by others in the craft beverage industry, many of whom have issued layoffs for the first time or are operating with just skeleton crews. When asked how widespread the issue was for the industry, one adviser said “everyone” in his client base was dealing with layoffs.
Tony Comden, a Grand Rapids attorney at Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey PLC who specializes in labor and employment, said layoffs “may be the reality” as small businesses come to grips with coronavirus.
“It’s really a complex combination of legal, business, ethical, health and safety issues that our clients are struggling with,” Comden said. “I have been very encouraged that folks are trying to do the right things from all of those perspectives and make sure we treat our customers and employees the right way.”
Meanwhile, Long Road is scheduled to reach its fifth anniversary in May.
“Fingers crossed we’re going to make it that long,” O’Connor said.
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