Early Notice of Warning
Signs May Save Your Plant
Many diseases once thought fatal can now be minimized by recognizing the warning signs and seeking early treatment.
The same is true for the damage caused by plant closings, but too few of us recognize the warning signs. And often we don't realize that "medicine" exists to fight shutdowns.
Long before your employer issues a WARN Act notice (see the accompanying article above), there will be tell-tale signs that your workplace could be in trouble.
Although the circumstances of every plant closing are different, there are some things we should keep our eyes open for:
◾Disinvestment - Lack of equipment or building maintenance. Removal of equipment. Profits used to improve or buy other businesses.
◾Ownership problems - Change of ownership. No successor for an aging owner.
◾Declining Sales/Employment - Loss of major customers. Business doing worse than the rest of the industry, especially for three years or more.
◾Duplicate Capacity - Twin location with ability to make the same product. Movement of least-skilled work.
◾Management Instability - High turnover at manager, engineer or labor relations positions. Mysterious "consultants" appear.
◾Changes in Land Use - Neighboring plants being sold and converted to non-manufacturing uses.
◾Inadequate Research & Development - No new products. Losing ground to other companies in product design and quality.
◾Money Trouble - Supplies arriving COD. Lack of supplies screwing up production. Paychecks bouncing. Taxes delinquent.
And sometimes, the first warning sign is a rumor of a closure.
Right now, you're probably thinking, "Hey, that's my workplace!" Don't panic. Any of these warning signs may not necessarily signal that the end is near, but should serve as a wake up call to keep your eyes open.
STEPS TO TAKE
But let's say the writing is on the wall. Is there anything a union can do to turn a doomed operation around?
First the union leadership must make an honest assessment of the situation. Sometimes what management needs is genuine constructive criticism to get back on track. The union can be helpful in identifying where management has gone wrong, even coming up with potential new products and markets.
More often, the local must organize itself for a full-blown fight back. This usually includes organizing the membership, the community, churches and other unions to pressure the employer to keep the workplace open. Elected officials from city council members all the way up to governors and congressmen have been enlisted by UE locals to help keep jobs in a particular community, city, or state.
When a company is determined to leave a particular location or market, UE locals have successfully attracted new, potential owners for a plant and pressured the old owners to sell and, on rare occasions, has used eminent domain (when a governmental body takes over a workplace to seek new owners or turn it over to the workers themselves) to save jobs.
All of these strategies are explored in the pamphlet Refuse to Lose: Eminent Domain and the JC Rhodes Campaign, published by the UE Education Department and available from the national office