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ConAgra Foods will shut down one of nine production lines at its frozen foods plant in Council Bluffs, in what the company said is part of an ongoing efficiency effort in the face of competition.

The change isn't expected to lead to layoffs, a ConAgra spokesman said. He said the company still is evaluating the move and would share details with plant workers this spring.

"We regularly look at our overall plant network to ensure that we're operating as productively as we possibly can, as a matter of operating in a competitive environment," spokesman Dan Hare said.

He said that the production line would be idled and that the move didn't necessarily mean fewer workers or less food being produced, but rather making the most of the eight other production lines.

The western Iowa plant, one of ConAgra's largest, has about 850 employees, a figure that fluctuates throughout the year based on seasonal changes in demand. Workers there make frozen meals including pot pies and microwave dinners.

An employee told The World-Herald that a supervisor at the plant informed workers in late 2015 that one of the nine lines would shutdown in late February or early March.

"They said not to worry — that there is nobody going to be fired, and nobody going to be laid off," the employee said. ConAgra confirmed the line shutdown after being contacted by the newspaper and told of the employee's account.

The employee spoke to The World-Herald on the condition the employee not be identified. The employee, who speaks Spanish, spoke to the newspaper in a conversation translated by the employee's English-speaking acquaintance.

The employee said as the one Council Bluffs line shuts down, "the rest of the people are going to be fit elsewhere in the remaining eight (production lines)."

Production line employees at the plant are paid $14 to $15 an hour depending on their shift, the employee said. Supervisors and specialty workers earn more.

A spokesman for the union representing the plant's workers said he couldn't comment. The president of the Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce said he was unaware of the changes. The Iowa Workforce Development agency said it hadn't received notice of any pending layoffs at the plant.

The changes in Council Bluffs come as the company evaluates its plants and supply chain nationwide. A new chief supply chain officer, who joined the company in October, has been evaluating the company's manufacturing and transportation network in a bid to cut costs and increase efficiency, ConAgra has said.

Any changes in manufacturing plants are in addition to major cuts announced in October. ConAgra said then it would cut $300 million in annual spending from the company budget. That included layoffs of 1,500 office-based workers nationwide, including 1,000 in Omaha, and transferring 300 more Omaha jobs to Chicago, where the company is relocating its headquarters from Omaha.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, barbara.soderlin@owh.com

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