Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mercury Rising

I’ll admit that the chance of Mercury Marine leaving Fond du Lac scares me as much as it does others. I’m hoping it’s a worst case scenario. The fact that the company employs over 1,850 workers and at one time more than 3,200 is staggering. Its impact on other businesses and the economy of not only the area, but state also can’t be diminished.

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and saw some major employers there go by the wayside due to the economy of the times. In college during the summer I worked at a limestone mine, which at the time employed more than 300 people. Given the U.P’s size it was a major employer in the area. After graduating from college I landed a job at a radio station in my hometown. I heard that the mine and its union had a contract bargaining session coming up and it may be difficult.

I asked a prominent banker in the community how it would be impacted if for some reason the mine were to shut down. He laughed at the thought and not too politely. That was staggering for a young reporter still learning the ropes. Needless to say the contract negotiations dragged on. Meantime I took a job at another radio station up the road. Within two years time the company shut down because it couldn’t reach terms with its workers.

The good news is the mine was sold to another owner, but when it reopened it only employed 60 workers and none of them were with a union. I’m not saying unions are a bad thing, but workers at the mine mistakenly thought the mine wouldn’t close and their jobs were safe. That mine is once again facing ownership and closing questions.

The local paper mill also employs about 300 workers. It’s been open for more than 100 years. However they saw the writing on the wall years ago and started making recycled papers. The mill actually prospered after the switch. I have to wonder how the paper industry is going these days with more reports generated on the Internet and newspapers closing from declining readership.

At one time I envied my brothers and sisters because my love of radio always meant making less money than they did. However my two brothers John and Matt work for that mine I mentioned and have been furloughed twice already during the mine’s busy season. My sister Kathy works as a corrections officer in the state of Michigan. Last year the state cut its corrections employees from 40 to 32 hours a week. They also got some furloughs. Now the prison she worked at has closed and she was transferred. Her drive to work went from 30 minutes to 70. Things are tough all over.

I’ll do my best to remain optimistic about Mercury’s chances, but I also fret over any business closing. It is always personal and it always does effect more than the people who lose their jobs. As someone recently said to me, “It doesn’t do any good to get retrained for work if there aren’t any jobs out there.”

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