Monday, September 07, 2009

Number One On The Water

I've never covered a story that so physically and emotionally drained me as what has gone on with Mercury Marine in the last few weeks. From dawn to dusk and beyond I had to be on call for any breaking development as the company considered whether it would continue to make outboard motors in Fond du Lac.

Anyone who has followed the news knows that too many manufacturing jobs have left Wisconsin. It looked like Mercury and its 70 year history in the state would be another casualty. However as we've seen in Fond du Lac over the last few years the community is resilient and there's just some special element that allows us to bounce back from adversity.

Three union workers Fred Toth, Felipe Rodriguez, and Rick Schmidt got a lot of credit for their petition drive and effort to get a revote after union workers rejected Mercury's proposed contract changes. I won't dispute that important contribution, but also know that city, state, and county officials, union leaders, and Mercury executives continued to talk. If they hadn't there wouldn't have been a third vote and eventual passage of the contract that will save manufacturing jobs and bring others to the city.

The toughest day was early that Sunday morning after a second vote attempt ended short. Union members stood in the parking lot at Machinists Lodge 1947 tired, frustrated, angry. The community awoke that Sunday morning to news that hopes had been dashed. I went home at 3:30 that morning after reporting from the union hall most of the night. All seemed lost for retaining Mercury's manufacturing jobs.

That following Tuesday Mercury and union officials met and decided there would be a third vote. It seemed there was still a glimmer of hope. Constant visits to the union hall this past Thursday and Friday I got different reactions from those who voted. At first I was guardedly optimistic, but was still surprised Friday night when union leaders announced that the contract had been ratified. Mercury would stay in Fond du Lac.

Unlike a football game the losers wouldn't simply lick their wounds and practice for the next game. Stillwater, Oklahoma residents felt more than slighted. After all three votes on a union contract. Sorry, but this is where I admit to being biased. I was not pro-Union, not-pro Mercury, but pro-Fond du Lac during this entire drama.

I went home this past Friday night shortly before midnight still sorting out my emotions. It had been an 18 hour work day. I felt for the union workers that had to make their own sacrifices to save their jobs and preserve other jobs for years to come. I also feel that Mercury officials did not want to make a decision to leave Fond du Lac, a community that has supplied a hard working and loyal workforce to it for the better part of 70 years. I also rejoiced for community leaders who knew what kind of impact Mercury leaving would have had on thousands of residents.

Of course there's still the matter of city and county officials finalizing incentive packages for Mercury, but the biggest sacrifice has already been made by Mercury's union employees. If city council and county board members can't realize that then they really should consider whether they are truly watching out for the best interests of those they represent.

I may never be able to watch a pickup truck pulling a boat and trailer with a Mercury motor go by on a highway again and not feel a twinge of pride in what this community has accomplished. As County Executive Al Buechel put it, we did not want to become the “Detroit” of Wisconsin. Amen!

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