Thursday, Dec. 22 was not an easy day for the approximately 70 Little River Apparel employees who were told they wouldn’t have a job to go back to after the company’s semiannual shut-down week.

Richard Savage, manufacturing director at the Belfast-based plant, said even though the layoffs are temporary and employees may be able to return to work by late next month, he wanted to tell the workers in person.

“I personally called everyone out Thursday. I delivered the bad news in person,” said Savage.

Savage said he did so because he didn’t feel it was fair to allow the employees to¬† believe they had jobs to go back to after the week-long shut down, only to get a letter in the mail informing them that they would not be returning to work yet after all.

The scheduled shut-downs, which Savage said occur once in July and again in late December, are executed annually to give the company a chance to conduct necessary maintenance in its machinery.

Savage said the plant employs about 240 people, including the 70 who were recently laid off.

Little River Apparel, which is managed by the Group Home Foundation, makes chemical warfare protection suits for the military and underwent an expansion a few years ago. At that time, Savage said, the company expanded from manufacturing one line of the uniforms up to three separate lines, and also added production space to accommodate the growth.

“I expect and hope that the testing will be completed so people can come back to work by the end of January,” said Savage.

The employees who were laid off primarily worked on one of the company’s three lines, and Savage said the layoffs were due to a need to test a type of seam-sealing tape that is used in the production process. Savage said the manufacturer of the tape had recently come out with a different kind of tape and that it must undergo testing by the manufacturer and the U.S. Department of Defense before it can be used to make the uniforms.

The layoffs, said Savage, are unusual for Little River Apparel.

“I’ve been here 10 years, and this is the first time I’ve seen it,” said Savage.

According to its web site, the Group Home Foundation started Little River Apparel in 1997 to “provide more employment opportunities for people with disabilities in the area.” The manufacturer is located in the Belfast business park.

No matter what happens with the ongoing testing of the seam tape, Savage said there will be work in the near future for those who were laid off.

“Rest assured, everyone will be back,” he said.