WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The clouds of legal and regulatory challenges hovering over Herbalife Ltd. did not deter local applicants from trying Friday to land a full-time job at the company’s Winston-Salem production plant, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Herbalife’s first on-site job fair ended at 5 p.m. at 3200 Temple School Road. There were at least 250 people in line during the first hour of the event, which began at 10 a.m.
Spokesman Julian Cacchioli said Herbalife already has hired more than 290 full-time employees toward its commitment of 493 by the time it reaches full production at the $130 million plant at the end of 2015.
The bulk of those employees were hired either through online applications or through specialty manufacturing job fairs held by Goodwill Industries of Northwest N.C., according to Joanna Williams, Herbalife’s local human resources official.
Forty-four job openings are listed for the plant at www.herbalife.com/career-opportunities. The jobs include information technology, maintenance technicians, packaging, service desk analyst, senior developer, chemists, microbiologists, associate scientists, research and development, applications analysts, forklift operator and process engineer.
Two early applicants, Dedrick Jones and Benita Cross, were very familiar with the plant, having both worked there for Dell Inc. before it closed operations in November 2010.
They also were aware of Herbalife’s simmering issues with federal regulators and a few U.S. lawmakers.
Hedge fund activist Bill Ackman began his accusations of Herbalife being a pyramid scheme on Dec. 19, 2012 – the same day that Herbalife chose the Winston-Salem plant for its East Coast operations. The company has denied Ackman’s allegations and countered with a series of reports defending its business model.
Among the pending issues are investigations into Herbalife’s business practices by the New York Attorney General’s Office, U.S. Justice Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Trade Commission and a formal inquiry request by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Analysts have said the FTC investigation could take at least a year to conduct.
The former Dell workers said they didn’t feel any bad vibes about re-entering the building or working for Herbalife.
“I feel like this will be a good fit,” said Jones of Winston-Salem, who hoped to interview for a quality or electrical mechanical technician position. He held a similar job for three years with Dell.
Jones said he learned from his Dell experience that manufacturers go through ups and downs, some of which are beyond their control.
“I had good luck here until unfortunately things took a turn for the worse,” Jones said. “That’s just business and manufacturing. You still have to stick your foot out there and give it a shot.
“I have kept up with the Herbalife issues, more recently. Being an ex-Dell employee, you are used to hear the rumors constantly.”
When asked about why he thinks working for Herbalife will be different, Jones said: “I have faith. This is the nature of the beast. Every manufacturer has had some kind of difficulty in some way.”
“If you are going to look at that solely as a reason not to apply, then you are not going to find anything.”
Cross, from Colfax, worked at the Dell plant for 2½ years through a temporary agency.
Cross said the ability to land a full-time job with benefits “would be wonderful” after constantly getting only a few months of work through other temporary agency jobs. She said she was applying for a packaging or material handling job.
“My sense, even with the Herbalife issues, is that this could be a stable job,” Cross said. “I’m not worried about things I can’t control.”
Herbalife spokesman Julian Cacchioli said the company began production of powder products in May.
“We remain on track to commence production of teas and liquids in the third quarter, as per our plans,” Cacchioli said. “We remain on target to hit all of our job targets.”
Williams said most of the hired Herbalife employees “had no reservations about applying to work here. The number of people coming in today is more proof that they believe Herbalife would be a good place to work.”
Williams said the bulk of employees live within commuting distance of the plant. Unlike Dell, Herbalife did not have to send the first wave of hires away for training since new production equipment is being used here.
“We’ve had the manufacturers of the equipment handle much of the training,” Williams said. “We have recruited and hired for some positions outside the area, but we are hiring locally as we can.”
Since the FTC investigation began public March 12, Herbalife’s share price has been on a roller coaster ride with each new revelation of a potential or actual investigation. Still, Thursday’s closing share price of $64.99 is down less than 1 percent from the price at the March 12 FTC announcement. The 52-week range is $48.81 to $83.51.
Kelly Bennett of King said he also is looking for a stable job after being let go in November 2012 from his computer operation position at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center during its first wave of now about 1,300 job cuts. He has been working as a substitute teacher.
“A steady, stable full-time job is still hard to find,” Bennett said.
“If there was something there on Herbalife, I believe they would have found it by now. That’s what lends me confidence to apply.”