Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Merc union talks set to wrap up Monday

Article from Stillwater News Press
by Monique Headley

Merc union talks set to wrap up Monday

• Former president says long-range operation costs favor Stillwater

Union negotiations with Mercury Marine are expected to conclude by Monday. If an agreement is reached between Mercury and the union, union members may be called upon to vote on ratification within the following two weeks. A corporate decision regarding the next step would be determined in part by union response.

Mercury continues to work toward reaching a decision by the end of summer regarding possible consolidation of its Fond du Lac, Wis., and Stillwater operations.

The company has had several meetings with members of Local 1947 of the International Association of Machinists and Aviation Workers. Additional sessions were slated for 10 a.m. today with others possible on Thursday or Friday, said a representative of Mercury Marine.

According to posted comments from Mercury Marine President Mark D. Schwabero, “The current market requires us to make some very critical decisions over the next few weeks. We are bargaining not for enhancements or over political or philosophical differences, we must restructure our business to compete successfully in a very different market.”

All aware weigh the pros and cons of the situation.

Having spent time in Stillwater and Fond du Lac, former president of MerCruiser from 1990-2001, Barry Eller said to move operations, machinery, equipment and people from Stillwater to Fond du Lac, would be less work.

“The major issue for me, personally, that I would be looking at are the long-range costs of operation,” Eller said. “In the long run, I think being a nonunion workforce in a Right To Work state, you have a lot more flexibility which allows you to be a lot more productive.”

Eller believes the post-recession market will return to previous levels.

“Every time there has been a recession, the industry has come back - bigger and stronger,” he said.

Though not involved in negotiations, Eller said management is likely working to determine what the union will agree to and to make a decision. The company must also consider the incentives offered by Wisconsin and compare with those of Oklahoma, he said.

“They have good management and are accountable to shareholders,” Eller said. All employees are shareholders, he said.

As shareholders, said Eller, the top priorities are to have a job and protect the value of Brunswick stock shares.

“They will benefit from whatever decision is made,” he said.

Ultimately, said Eller, the decision management makes is not a reflection on the people or whether they do a good or bad job. “The industry has shrunk so much, management has to consolidate operations in order to survive and ... be a viable company,” Eller said. “The marine industry has been devastated. What is the recession for everyone else is three to four times that for the marine industry.” The perception of recreational dollars must return to income and consumer confidence, he said.

According to Eller, such unprecedented and low boating industry sales are no reflection on management. Mercury has maintained marketshare, he said.

From 2001-2004, Eller was also responsible for Wisconsin operations of the Original Equipment Manufacture division sales and product to boat building customers.

“I think the quality of the workforce in Stillwater is second to none. They have an excellent work ethic and are very conscientious on quality of product. They are very, very understanding on what it takes to keep a customer,” Eller said.

Terms of negotiation remain closely guarded.

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