Earlier tonight I mentioned that union workers at the Mercury Marine plant in Fond Du Lac rejected contract concessions that would have included a 30% wage cut for new hires and employees called back from layoffs and severely slashed retirement and severance benefits, in addition to the 7-year wage freeze union members had already accepted as part of their last negotiated contract with Mercury Marine. While some conservatives have been quick to attack union members for voting to kill their own jobs, Steve Jagler of the Milwaukee Biz Times points out that the real villain in this story may be Mercury Marine:
The question is being asked at dinner tables and water coolers throughout Wisconsin: Why would those union workers at Mercury Marine’s Fond du Lac plant vote against the company’s last contract proposal?
The first thing to understand is the history that brought the Mercury Fond du Lac contract dispute to this point. The company signed a contract extension through 2012 for the workers in Fond du Lac only last year. “Now, they turn around and say, ‘We need a complete rewrite, from cover to cover, of the contract THEY negotiated. It’s union busting,” said Mike King of the IAMAW. “When it’s told to you across the table by a union-busting consultant (hired by the company), it really leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
In recent years, Mercury Marine had laid off about 600 people from the Fond du Lac plant and shifted production to China. The laid off employees could not participate in Sunday’s contract vote.
The layoffs left the Fond du Lac plant with a senior-laden workforce. Most of the employees who still have jobs there have 25 to 30 years of experience at the plant. For many of them, retirement is on the near horizon.
Put yourself in their shoes. You are very near retirement. You are making a fine living wage. You have negotiated health care and pension benefits. The company is proposing a new contract that will slash your pay and eliminate most of your benefits, including severance pay for outgoing workers. The contract will cut benefits for retirees and will cut wages for new hires.
Ultimately, it certainly seems as if Mercury Marine intended to move its headquarters and production facility to Stillwater, Oklahoma all along. The company’s request for the union to acquiesce to deeper concessions than the ones the union agreed to during the last round of contract negotiations gave Mercury Marine a convenient scapegoat as they moved to the greener pastures of Stillwater.
However, if I were a worker for Mercury Marine (or a potential worker) in Stillwater, Oklahoma, I wouldn’t be too giddy about the prospect of Mercury Marine creating new jobs in that community. After all, if Mercury Marine is willing to pull up stakes and abandon a community they’ve had a connection with for 70 years, then there won’t be much keeping Mercury from kicking Stillwater to the curb in a few years when the company gets a sweeter deal in Mexico or China or some other country where labor is cheaper.
H/T to Paul Soglin.