OXFORD — Oxford Aviation has rehired employees after a mass layoff last month.
President Jim Horowitz said the company anticipated it would have to lay off 23 people, but ultimately limited the cuts to 17 positions, all of which will be refilled. Some employees were rehired within a week and offers were made to all terminated employees within three weeks of the layoff, he said.
The company, which employs about 50 people and is based at the Oxford County Regional Airport, focuses on aircraft painting and refurbishing. It worked to bring in more airplanes to augment the company’s cash flow, Horowitz said. He said the company also asked for an acceleration of work from existing customers.
“It was very depressing to come in here and have so many people not here,” Horowitz said. “No one’s spirits were good at that point.”
He said the layoffs occurred due to an unexpected budget shortfall after Oxford County government withheld a $100,000 payment to the company on March 10, alleging the company had not met its obligations to maintain the buildings it leased from the county.
In 2008, the company sued the county, charging it with failure to maintain the buildings per the lease, which runs to 2027. The suit claimed there were persistent roof leaks at the building and more recent mold problems.
In January, Oxford Aviation and the county settled the lawsuit. Oxford County agreed to transfer maintenance responsibilities to Oxford Aviation and to pay the company $250,000 in four installments to address existing issues.
Following the county commissioners’ decision to withhold the payment, Oxford Aviation lawyers Mark Lavoie and Russell Pierce Jr. amended the lawsuit to charge the county and individual commissioners with breach of settlement agreement and interference with advantageous business relations.
Horowitz said the company had taken several steps toward repairing the buildings, including removing water-damaged ceiling panels and Sheetrock, sealing the foundation and beginning roof repairs.
County attorney Joshua Carver claimed in a response to the amended lawsuit that Oxford Aviation did not give verifiable documentation that the work was being done, and that “it became apparent to the county that Oxford Aviation was not performing its obligations under the settlement agreement” after County Administrator Scott Cole toured the site on March 8.
Carver said the commissioners were doubtful of the company’s ability to meet the obligations, and charged that the amended complaint is “a spurious attempt to blame the county for (Oxford Aviation’s) apparently failing business.”
Carver also said the company cannot claim interference with business relations unless fraud or intimidation were used to induce a third party to breach a contract, and that the county and commissioners are immune from that charge under the Maine Tort Claims Act.
Horowitz formerly said the $100,000 was incorporated into the company’s budget as an expected cash flow, and that much of it was earmarked for roof repairs. He said the shortage was further exacerbated by past building repairs and the decision to make a bulk aviation fuel purchase for the company’s Fryeburg branch, Eastern Slopes Aviation.
Horowitz said he kept in contact with laid-off employees and a state unemployment assistance program following the layoffs. He said two new employees are starting on Monday and the company is hiring for three more positions.
“Someone once said, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,'” he said. “I think we are stronger as a company and a team of professionals.”
Lori Clark, who has done painting and preparation work since January, and Matt Whitney, who has done painting and detailing work for two months, said they were glad to be back at work. Clark was hired back two and a half days after the layoffs, and Whitney returned after about a month.
“I would say the ones who didn’t come back either found other jobs or didn’t want to come back,” Whitney said. “It’s hard enough to find a job out there now, let alone lose a job and try to find another one.”