As many as 70 John Deere Welland Works employees will now be able to keep their jobs for at least the rest of this year.

"We're going to see an extension of the closure date," Tom Napper, president of Canadian Auto Workers local 275, said yesterday. "We are not going to be able to ship everything out by Nov. 1."

Napper said discussions over the past three weeks with the company have pushed the closure date back to early 2010.

"We don't know definitely," Napper said. "We are gearing toward February."

About 140 of the remaining unionized workers at the plant are being permanently laid off tomorrow. Napper said that leaves about 100 CAW members employed until the end of the month. By September, between 60 and 70 employees are all that will remain in the shipping department. Their job will be to ship the vast inventory of farm equipment currently on site.

"It's a reprieve for some of the workers," Napper said.

The possible four months of extra work for 60 to 70 people is a bit of good news in an otherwise bleak situation.

"Unfortunately, it's not everyone," Napper added.

There are currently thousands of pieces of equipment stockpiled at the plant, due mostly to an idled economy and a lack of orders.

Deere and Co. announced the closure of the Welland operation last September, with production being shifted to Wisconsin and Mexico.

The plan was to provide John Deere customers with equipment made in Welland while the company ramped up operations in Mexico.

Napper said extending operations in the plant's shipping department was a decision that came about "fairly suddenly."

"We recognized by looking at the yard it was going to be difficult to meet the Nov. 1 deadline," Napper said. "This is going to make a difference for about 60 or 70 employees."

As for those who are now out of work, Napper said he has spoken with some members who have found work and there is a group of employees that was able to retire.

All others are being referred to the John Deere Action Centre on Division St. in Welland. The action centre will hold its official opening on Aug. 13.

"They have been doing a fabulous job," Napper said.

He said the majority of employees are leaving John Deere with an excellent skill set.

"The skill set at John Deere is extremely high," Napper said. "This layoff gives other employers a chance to have the cream of the crop."

An opportunity for John Deere welders to certify through Niagara College is available by contacting the action centre, Napper said. An information session will be held at the college Aug. 11.

The action centre is for union and non-union employees, Napper added.

The last piece of farm equipment produced at the plant rolls off the assembly line today.