Maytag: Putting a face on it

‘Maytags’ Putting a face on it
 
Date June 16, 2004
Section(s) Columnists
By Sen. Dennis Black  
 
Let’s put a face on it! Perhaps a face that would make an impression on the myriad of Wall Street analysts who sit back in their deep-foam, walnut and leather chairs, with their window view of the New York skyline. These financial wizards, who look only at the bottom line, and with a phone call can initiate a process which impacts faceless millions of hard working men and women.

I doubt many analysts have ever been to Newton, or visited the Maytag Corporation and its manufacturing facilities, or better yet, sat in the living room of a Maytag family, and listened to their stories, or viewed the surroundings of a worker’s world. Yet, like a maestro at the philharmonic, their every movement is unquestionably accepted by the business writers, who themselves steep in economic “gloom and doom” and pontificate to all in fixation that global competition requires “outsourcing” as the salvation of the corporate entity. After all, the value of the stock is most important. Right?

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO I was at an Izaak Walton weekly meeting and the boy sitting across the table was intently listening to our tales of a recent stocking of Walleyed pike at Rock Creek Lake. As the county’s conservation director, I attended most Ike’s meetings and this boy was always there with his dad, uncle and grandpa. That in itself had impressed me, for Ike’s was a family activity.

Mike Jensen intently and admiringly gazed at my conservation uniform arm patch and officer badge, and presumptively I asked, “Young man, do you want to be a conservation officer when you grow up?” Without hesitation, his response was direct, “Nope! I’m gonna work at Maytags!”

Somewhat taken back by his abruptness, I prompted more response, which boiled down to the simple fact that Maytag was the epitome of success in his young mind, and working in a growing company would be the ultimate in satisfaction. After all, “Maytags paid well, and you could buy a house and a new pickup!”

I lost track of Mike Jensen, but ran into him at the Union Hall on Thursday afternoon, just after workers had gone on strike. Other than a few pounds, Mike hadn’t changed much in the quarter-of-a-century that had passed since our conversation at Ikes. He was still the decent, kind, strappin’ big, good-looking “kid” I remembered. Grandpa had died; his dad was still on the “farm” and his Uncle Henry, the best concrete block layer in the business, was still working, but slowing down. Mike was visibly shaken by the strike, and anxious as to his future and the jobs of hundreds of Maytag brothers and sisters.

MIKE WAS QUICK to say that he had done well at “Maytags.” He has a good job, and the company had provided him with four-years as an apprentice in “tool and die.” He could not fault the company in any way for his personal treatment over the 18-years of employment with the company. Mike was proud of his accomplishments, proud of being a member of the Maytag family and very proud of his union for standing firm with the membership’s needs. And yes — Mike was driving a pickup!

The dilemma being faced by Mike Jensen, the entire Maytag family, and certainly all Americans, is that “outsourcing” is changing the face of society. Everyone understands that taking manufacturing jobs abroad or south-of-the-border only exacerbates the plight of the middle class. In fact, the demise of America’s middle class is at stake in the reformation of America’s economy!

Inevitably, if the trend continues, “opportunities” in the service industries will not be able to absorb the great numbers of jobless from the restructuring of the manufacturing sector. What good then, is a stock’s value, when “outsourcing” causes civil and class conflict between the “haves” and “have-nots!” History is in the making, and unfortunately, it’s being fueled by Wall Street interests.

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