Kongsberg Automotive's Greedy Bastards  

Okay, the headline is really just my opinion, but then again, this posting is actually based on opinion. The opinion of the editor of the Van Wert Independant:

Kongsberg: It's what they don't say
Once again, a contingent of top Kongsberg Automotive officials have come to Van Wert to try and make their blue-collar workers look like the bad guys in their labor dispute.

Like Peter Spencer a few months ago, Kongsberg group vice president Jarle Nymoen met Thursday with a local news medium to let the community know how hard company officials are trying to keep the local plant here in Van Wert. Their words nearly brought tears to my eyes. Well, almost. Actually, I think they were tears of laughter.

When you strip the rhetoric out, Nymoen basically said there is a bright future for the company’s shift towers here in Van Wert if it wasn’t for those greedy union workers who demand a wage they can live on.

While workers in Mexico and China may be able to live on $9 an hour, one very much doubts that Norwegian workers back in Kongsberg could even pay to put gasoline in their cars on that wage.

In addition to trying to put public pressure on local Kongsberg union workers to settle for an unlivable wage, Nymoen and attorney Todd Dawson of Baker & Hostetler, who sent a letter to local news media earlier in the week, are trying to make union officials look bad for “lying” that Kongsberg is unwilling to meet and negotiate with them.

Actually, I think the meaning of the word “negotiate” is what Kongsberg and union officials seem to disagree on the most. While Dawson asserted that United Steelworkers District 1 President Dave McCall was wrong when he said company officials weren’t willing to meet for negotiations, what McCall actually said was: “We stand ready and prepared to go back to the table and bargain for a fair and just contract.”

Dawson’s own letter included the company’s idea of negotiations when he said that, while the company was willing to sit down and talk, it was committed to its final offer made prior to the lockout.

Does that sound like someone willing to sit down and talk about a “fair and just contract”? It's like someone saying they're willing to talk, as long as they don't have to say anything.

In addition, the word “negotiation,” as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary, is “discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.” If 303 out of 312 people voting on a contract turn it down, it seems highly unlikely that an agreement will be forthcoming without some change in what's being discussed. One would even think it disingenuous of Kongsberg officials to feel such an agreement was even possible.

When I look at statements made by Nymoen and Dawson, I also read the subtext: In effect, what they really mean, but don't actually say.

First, Dawson says the temporary workers are just that and won’t get permanent jobs. However, Nymoen says the company feels there are American workers who will work for the wages it wants to pay (9 bucks an hour) and notes that the temp workers have basically shown the company was right by doing just that. Does that sound like they want their union workers back?

Nymoen, always the reasonable guy, then says he is in Van Wert to listen. Of course, the only people he has listened to so far are management people, but he says he would like to hear the union’s side as well. Makes you wonder why, though, if he was so eager to hear from guys like USW Local 1-524 President Aaron Collins, he didn’t set up a meeting beforehand so they could sit down right off. I guess local Kongsberg management officials don’t know where Collins could be located. If he wasn’t locked out, he probably would have been at the plant. Go figure.

There’s also what I think is a veiled threat in the Nymoen statements. Nymoen states that, failing to attempt to work through a contract with union workers would have meant, and I quote: “the plant would have been shut down by the spring of 2009.” Makes me think that was the plan all along, but I’m probably just cynical.

I WILL agree with Mr. Nymoen’s unspoken inference that someone is being greedy here. However, it isn’t union workers trying to earn enough to pay their bills who are greedy, but company officials who want blue-collar workers to shoulder ALL the costs of becoming competitive, while they continue to rake in mounds of cash for socking it to them.

The main unanswered question in this whole Kongsberg mess is this: If the company is not competitive, what sacrifices are its white-collar workers and top executives making to improve that? The unspoken answer to that is “finding cheaper blue-collar workers.”

If that were NOT the answer, we in the media would certainly have been bombarded with information on white-collar wage cuts and downsizing. After all, those actions make the company look good when negotiating with the union.

When you’re taking cuts as well, you can say this to the union: “Why are you unwilling to take a wage cut when we’re making financial sacrifices ourselves to make this company more competitive?”

Has anybody heard Kongsberg officials say anything like that? I haven’t.

Of course, if you do say that, you then have to prove your sacrifices are as great as those you’re asking of the union, but that would likely be the case, wouldn’t it, if becoming competitive were a team effort?

Moreover, Kongsberg knew what the financial situation was when they bought the local Teleflex plant. Apparently, Teleflex was doing all right with the plant. If Kongsberg can't run the plant at a profit, maybe they need to sell it to someone who can.

I don’t know about my fellow community members, but I, for one, am sick of a company that thinks it can operate like the “union-busting” companies of the 1930s that hired scabs to replace union workers, goons to enforce their will on those locked out, and threats to force them to comply. Sound familiar?

Unlike most members of the Van Wert community, Kongsberg officials obviously only see their union workers as obstacles to their own greed, rather than as neighbors and friends just trying to make a living.

How very sad.

--Dave Mosier

You can show Dave some love at his e-mail address: editor@vwindependent.com I think his analysis of Kongsberg Automotive's greed is dead on. And what's more, the greed aspect sure reminds me a lot of what's been happening on WallStreet. At what point do American workers stand up and say enough already? I know how we can, by putting pressure on Kongsberg Automotive to acutally bargain in good faith AND run a profitable operation in Van Wert without trying to run a greedy one. I suppose, that's too much to ask for from Kongsberg Automotive. I know, wait a day, they'll announce the plant closure and its subsequent move to Poland. See President Buch, I didn't forget Poland.

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