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Unilever closing Alberto Culver’s Melrose Park plant, offices

The AlberCulver Plant Melrose Park will close 2013.  |  Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Media

The Alberto Culver Plant in Melrose Park will close in 2013. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times Media

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Alberto Culver timeline

1955: Company is founded when Leonard and Bernice Lavin buy a West Coast beauty supply company and move it to 251 E. Grand in Chicago. They discontinue most of the supply company’s products to focus on Alberto V05 conditioning hairdressing.

1960: Buys TRESemme hair-care brand.

1961: Moves to Melrose Park.

1969: Buys Sally Beauty hair-salon supply and distribution business.

1972: Is first advertiser to use the now-standard 30-second TV spot.

1992: Launches TRESemme into mass market.

1996: Acquires St. Ives skin care products.

2000: Acquires Pro-Line brand.

2005: Acquires Nexxus brand.

2006: Launches Nexxus into mass market.

2006: Spins off Sally Beauty.

2010: Taken over by Unilever for $3.7 billion, ending the Lavins’ 55-year run owning and operating the company.

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Updated: January 3, 2012 10:36AM

Consumer products giant Unilever plans to close the Alberto Culver plant in Melrose Park in 2013 and will begin laying off at least 600 employees in a few months, employees and a union representative said Thursday.

“Most of the employees are very long-term and a lot of them are either in shock or denial,” said Steven Kramer, vice president of the United Steelworkers union Local 9777. He said the union represents about 250 people at the plant, which has operated since 1961.

Kramer and employees estimated the shutdown will eliminate 800 jobs at the factory and at adjacent offices that used to be Alberto Culver’s headquarters. However, Unilever spokeswoman Anita Larsen said there are 600 jobs at the location. She said the entire office staff will be cut or transferred.

One worker said Unilever is giving up on Melrose Park because it has a largely older work force. She said that despite the plant’s age, it consistently surpassed benchmarks for productivity.

“They told us they didn’t want us even if we worked for free,” said the worker, who asked not to be named.

Employees said they’ve been told the plant, at 2525 Armitage Ave., will be wound down through next year and shuttered sometime in 2013. Larsen had no information on the timetable.

“This decision was taken as a result of a review of the company’s manufacturing network in order to achieve cost efficiencies,” she said.

Many people thought the site would be on the corporate hit list once Unilever acquired Alberto Culver Co. last year for $3.7 billion. It had been the linchpin of Alberto Culver’s manufacturing network, turning out Alberto VO5 and TRESemme shampoos, but Unilever told workers a few months ago the location was under review. The plant also makes Nexxus shampoos and conditioners, as well as St. Ives lotions and body wash.

In 1996, Unilever bought Chicago-based cosmetics company Helene Curtis. It later began a consolidation that cost hundreds of jobs and erased Helene Curtis’ employment presence from the Chicago area.

“They are a conglomerate. They have their own ideas. It’s not a good thing,” said Mike Sicuro Jr., economic development director for Melrose Park. He said that along with the ripple impact of the closing, the village will be hurt by the loss of one of its biggest water customers.

Sicuro and union officials said local legislators and the governor’s office have been alerted to the closure, but that there has been no offer of incentives to get the company to stay.

A spokeswoman for the state’s economic development agency had no immediate comment.

A union steward, Kevin E. Perry, said he’s worked at the plant for 28 years and that many others have a similar tenure.

“There are husbands and wives there and people who have been working there all their lives,” he said.

Unilever, Perry said, has shown some sympathy and been flexible in negotiating benefits for those to be laid off.

Kramer said the union has negotiated a severance of up to 28 weeks for its members, plus six months of continued health insurance and assistance with finding another job. He also said those who retire will get a $5,000 bonus.

He said most of his members there earn about $18 per hour.

Unilever’s Larsen said, “Our union and non-union colleagues will be eligible for severance, outplacement services and other support to assist in transitioning to new opportunities. We are committed to ensuring a smooth transition for affected colleagues.”

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