Monday, January 30, 2012

Locomotives, pickles and coffee: all share one story

Recently I was told concerning the EMD lockout:

"For all the union bluster and condemnation about the enormous greed of Caterpillar, it is doing what all large corporations are required to do in law: act in their own self interest."

Well, that explains the recent pull-out of Bick's from Ontario by Smucker, the American owner. They didn't willingly choose this move, so destructive to the people of Dunnville, their hands were tied. They were only doing what is required in law. (What bunkum!)

Ontario tried coaxing the pickle company to stay in the province with sweet words made even sweeter by a $2.2 million Rural Economic Development (RED) grant. Smucker nibbled but didn't bite. They returned all the funds initially accepted and declined the remainder. They closed the Dunnville plant leaving up to 150 fulltime factory workers, 70 part-time staff, plus some seasonal workers out of jobs. Also affected were hundreds of area farmers and a state-of-the-art tank farm in Delhi.

According to Toby Barrett, MPP Haldimand-Norfolk, this was the last major industry in Dunnville. In the future, all Bick’s pickled products will be packed by unnamed “third-party manufacturers” and in expanded Smucker factories in Ripon, Wisconsin and Orrville, Ohio. All agricultural support moves to the States in 2012.

The National Post reports:

Bick's was founded in 1944 by Walter Bick, a young German Jew, 27, who had fled Europe just ahead of the Second World War. Walter and his wife Jeanny sold barrels of pickles to restaurants and army camps in the Toronto area before moving into retail in 1952. The company was sold to Robin Hood Flour in 1966. Robin Hood was taken over by Smucker in 2006.

"The plant closing has struck a sour note with former Bick’s employees. 'Americans come to Canada, buy a Canadian company, close it, and move it to the U.S.A. Shop for other brands, don’t help them screw us over,' reads a statement on Boycott Bick’s Pickles, a Facebook page created by disaffected former Bick’s employees."

The Electro-Motive Diesel lockout is grave but the story is not unique. I doubt it will be solved by the intervention of any well-meaning negotiators. I have watched this tale unfold in various permutations over and over, and not just in Ontario. Thanks to Google, I know that the story is even unfolding in Orrville, Ohio. Now, that's a surprise.

Orrville, Ohio has an expanded Smucker plant which replaced a 60-year-old facility, but the ''new technologies and efficiency improvements" results in more product being made by fewer people. Millions in capital investment eliminated 180 jobs or 40% of the Orrville work force. As production is ramped up at the modern plant through the summer of 2013, facilities in Memphis with 161 employees and in Quebec with 101 employees will be closed.

Robin Hood Flour and Bick's are not the only well-known brands to have been assimilated into the Smucker fold. Since 2001, Smucker has acquired Folgers coffee along with food brands Jif, Crisco, Pillsbury, Hungry Jack, Eagle Brand condensed milk and Europe's Best Inc., a private company headquartered in Montreal. (I've noticed that some of Europe's Best is packaged in China.)

Unfortunately, growing the brand has meant shrinking the jobs. Take Folgers. Smucker acquired the coffee company from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble in 2008 for $3.3 billion. By 2011 the phase out of the Folgers Kansas City operation, with more than a hundred years of history and 179 employees and its Sherman plant with 95 jobs, was underway.

Missouri state Rep. Mike Talboy called the closings "extremely unfortunate" and said he hoped Folgers would reconsider. Talboy said he'd be working with the Missouri Department of Economic Development to see if there's anything that can be done to keep the plant open and keep the jobs in Kansas City. "I'm going to do everything I can to protect Kansas City jobs," Talboy said.

More nice thoughts. Nice thoughts by politicians, union leaders and newspaper columnists seem to surround and cushion these closures. As I wrote in my last post, folk like these should hold onto their nice thoughts, and they don't have to hold on too tightly. Those thoughts aren't going anywhere.

The Folgers KC closing also is accompanied by its own Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. I must say, you have an excellent blog. It's a depressing shame to see so many businesses relocating with no reason other than profit, and many times, owing to the declining standards of American production, I look for Canadian products in the hope that folks who work harder stay employed, even though that seems to be failing, too...