May 2004 IBEW
It was just another
morning for Judy Johnson.
She reported to the Marion, Indiana, plant of Thomson
Inc. where she had worked for the past 33 years coating
the delicate funnels that are destined for installation
in the rear cabinet of color televisions.
treasurer of IBEW Local 1160, was on the job when she
received a call about an emergency meeting at the union
hall. She arrived at the hall fifteen minutes later,
just in time to hear the announcement that the Marion
plant was shutting down—immediately. A sister
plant in Circleville, Ohio, would also be closing soon.
Johnson was stunned.
Mark King preparing to install a Funnel Mold onto the
The local news reporters said the
closing came as "no surprise" to the workers.
Sure, Johnson and others knew that the company "wasn’t
going to stay in the U.S. if they could go somewhere
else and work people for 50 cents an hour," but,
she said: " It doesn’t matter whether you
saw it coming or not. You’re still stunned. I’m
worried. I started there when I was 18. It’s the
only job that I have ever had. Now I’m 51, the
sole breadwinner in the family. I wasn’t going
to retire until I was 55."
The Marion plant, where cathode
ray tubes (CRT) are assembled, opened 75 years ago as
Farnsworth Radio and was acquired by RCA. RCA built
the Circleville glass manufacturing plant in 1970, the
last plant built for RCA—enabling RCA
to manufacture every component of a TV set without dependence
upon outside sources. General Electric bought both plants
in 1986. Then, in 1988 GE sold its consumer electronics
division to Thomson, a French-owned corporation.
The shutdowns will eventually force
1,375 IBEW members out of work. Tube production will
be moved to Mexicali, Mexico, as part of Thomson’s
strategy to locate 80 percent of its tube production
in "low cost countries," including China,
Poland and Mexico. In a column in the Indianapolis Star,
James Patterson reports that workers of the Mexicali
plant make an average wage of $2.30 per hour compared
to $16 per hour of workers in Marion. Thomson intends
to obtain glass from outside suppliers. The glass making
plant will be completely closed by June 14, 2004. The
company has also shut down a wood plant in Mocksville,
North Carolina, that employed 80 workers who produced
cabinets for rear projection TVs.
Jom Peters operating
the panel press.
Local 2331 in Circleville was due
to begin negotiations on a new contract with Thomson
this month. The company had previously told the union
that "extensive" furnace upgrading would be
scheduled in 2005. Lonnie Hawk, president and business
manager says: "Last year we lost one-third of our
work force to lay-offs. This year all of our members—most
of them between 34 and 60 years old—are losing
their jobs. It will be difficult for them to find decent-paying
jobs. Even truck driver openings are requiring five
years of experience." At the Marion plant, Local
1160 had agreed to a one-year contract extension. The
company previously discussed the prospect of a shutdown
due to business competition.
While Thomson’s tube production
is moving to Mexico, the competitive pressure that led
to the move, and the abandonment of glass making, originates
in Asia. Consumer Electronics Daily reported on March
18, 2004: "Thomson’s closing of CRT and TV
glass plants is part of the continuing retrenchment
of the tube business in the U.S., as manufacturers move
production to low-cost regions such as Mexico and the
Far East, industry officials said. With direct-view
[tube] TV price wars raging at retail, manufacturers
have moved in recent years to transfer production of
19- and 20-inch tubes to the Far East, leading to speculation
that the 25-inch and up sizes aren’t far behind."
A TV retailer interviewed for the article claims that
70 percent of his new TV sales are rear projection models
that don’t require tubes; they use color guns
to shoot the image onto the screen. The shrinking market
for TV’s that contain tubes has heated up the
Another factor in the price wars
is "dumping"—selling color televisions
in the U.S. for less than the cost of making them—by
both China and Malaysia. The IBEW was party, with the
U.S. government and other unions, to a petition before
the International Trade Commission (ITC) that accuses
China and Malaysia of illegally dumping TV’s on
the U.S. market. The petitioners are seeking an extra
import duty on televisions from China and Malaysia to
bring prices closer to the normal value. IBEW International
Representative Troy Johnson testified at the ITC hearing
last year about the shutdown of the Sharp TV plant in
Tennessee that threw 500 IBEW members out of work in
2002 and the lay-offs of IBEW members at Toshiba in
Lebanon, Tennessee. The preliminary ruling from the
ITC was favorable to the petitioners.
John Hickey inspecting a batch charger with a mix and
The U.S. International Trade Commission
scheduled a "final injury" hearing on the
dumping case for April 15, 2004. The IBEW members at
Toshiba are currently working, but Johnson says that
the plant’s future is still in doubt. He is hopeful
that the ITC will rule in favor of the petitioners,
helping to provide more security for workers at Toshiba
and at other U.S. operations where workers are represented
by the Electronic Workers-Communications Workers of
America (IUE-CWA), the United Steelworkers of America
(USWA) and the Glass, Molders and Pottery Workers (GMP).
But, says Johnson, "even if we win the ITC case,
it doesn’t stop employers from moving production
to Mexico, drawing an advantage from the North American
Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)."
Thomson took the "if you can’t
beat them, join them" approach to the Far East
competition. Tony Blankenship was business manager of
Local 2331 for fifteen years and now works in the Manufacturing
Department at the IBEW International Office. He said:
"I have to laugh when Thomson talks about ‘foreign
competition.’ In January 2004 Thomson and TCL
International Holdings Limited, the leading multimedia
consumer electronic products manufacturer in China,
signed a combination agreement in Paris in the presence
of the President of the People’s Republic of China
and the French prime minister. Our ‘foreign’
competition’ is Thomson." Thomson has sold
TCL a 20-year license to use the RCA name, while retaining
control of tube and glass making. Blankenship said that
Thomson brought four managers in from Europe two years
ago to run the Circleville facility. Then they forced
80 supervisors and engineers into retirement. "Among
them were key engineers and furnace experts." Blankenship
said. They were replaced by others who didn’t
have a clue about how to run a glass plant." It
wasn’t the first time that Thomson undermined
a U.S. facility. In the mid-1990s, the company pitted
workers at the Marion plant against workers at the company’s
Scranton, Pennsylvania, plant who were organized by
IUE for production of large screens TVs. Thomson ended
up shutting down the Scranton plant and moving equipment
Rod Reimer, unidentified management employee, Jim Kingery,
unidentified management, and John Hickey inspecting
a forehearth gobber after its removal.
Blankenship speculates that Thomson’s
long-term goal is to leave manu facturing behind. Thomson
owns Technicolor, a major manufacturer of film for movies.
It also own Grass Valley, a firm that produces audio
for the entertainment industry. He says that they want
to end up in services like audio and video replication
and out of manufacturing.
Louie Cole, an electrician at Thomson’s
Marion, Indiana, plant and vice president of IBEW Local
1160, says of the shutdown: "It’s not competition
or wages. It’s flat corporate greed. We agreed
to work mandatory Saturdays. It was a complete effort
by our members to improve the bottom line. The company
still elected not to put more investment in the plants."
The Thomson closing comes one year
after the idling of the Corning tube plant near State
College, Pennsylvania, a joint venture with Asahi Glass.
Corning made a $600 million investment in liquid crystal
display computer systems in Taiwan prior to the closing.
Over 1,000 members of the Steelworkers (formerly Flint
Glass Workers) lost their jobs. Corning sold its tube
making equipment to a Chinese manufacturer.
The demise of Thomson’s U.S.
interests leaves only four producers of TV tubes in
the United States—Matsushita-Toshiba (MT) with
plants in Troy, Ohio, and Horseheads, New York; Sony
in New Stanton, Pennsylvania; Techneglas Inc. in Columbus,
Ohio, Pittston, Pennsylvania, and Perrysburg, Ohio,
and Hitachi in Greenville, South Carolina.
Randy Congrove performing Lock Out
Tag Out prior to performing maintenance
on a stud insertion machine.
The Sony facility produces glass
for its own needs, leaving Techneglas as the only outside
TV glass supplier remaining in the U.S. Formerly, a
partnership between Owens-Illinois and Nippon (Japan),
Techneglas is now a fully owned subsidiary of Nippon.
Bruce Smith, an official of the GMP Union that represents
workers at two Techneglas facilities, says: "The
company wants concessions on wages and health insurance.
We are looking over their books. We’ve already
faced considerable downsizing. The Columbus plant had
1,000 workers two years ago; only 350 are left. There’s
a market for our product. People who buy plasma TVs
will still buy cheaper TV’s for other rooms in
their homes, but Techneglas is still crying about foreign
Meanwhile, in Marion and Circleville,
the newspapers are featuring reports on the effect of
the Thomson loss on local budgets. The Marion Chronicle
Tribune reports that the loss of $1.3 million in property
taxes [from Thomson] is "just hanging out there,
an albatross that could force government to either reduce
services or jack up the property tax rates to make up
for the loss of income." Several Marion-area manufacturing
plants including GenCorp, Essex Wire, Ball-Foster and
SCM Paper were closed prior to the Thomson announcement.
The Circleville Herald reports that the city stands
to lose $278,000 in income taxes from former Thomson
workers, constituting 18 percent of the city’s
total tax revenues. The Thomson closing deprives the
town of $450,000 in water revenue, 31 percent of the
total. The public safety budget, general and capital
improvement funds are also facing cuts.
Steve Rowland, business manager
of Local 1160 in Marion, says: "These devastating
shutdowns are all about trade policy. I hope people
are aware that, with an election coming up, they need
to get registered to vote Mr. Bush out and get someone
in who will look out for American workers." Judy
Johnson agrees. She says: "We have to talk about
repealing NAFTA and other trade deals. We need to keep
good manufacturing jobs here in the U.S."