Business reacts to to Bowers' labor remark

February 06, 1997


Staff Writer

Washington County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers' contention that local business leaders try to keep companies with unionized labor and high wages from moving to the area sparked sharp reactions Wednesday from some county business leaders.

Bowers made the comments Tuesday at the State of the County forum sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

"We certainly to my knowledge never attempted to keep a company that may or may not be unionized from coming into Washington County," Chamber President Gary Wright said Wednesday.

Chamber of Commerce Director Fred Teeter said there was no evidence of friction between labor and business and said the chamber wasn't against unionized labor.


"That is a real fairy tale," Teeter said.

"The burden of proof has to be on Commissioner Bowers to prove that. There is absolutely no evidence to support his claim."

Bowers, a union worker at Mack Trucks, stood by his earlier comments.

"The leaders of the community don't want higher-paying jobs (coming into the county) because their employees will leave and they'll have to pay them more," Bowers said. "Once they take their heads out of the sand, they'll realize that wages are pathetically low."

"We have a bad reputation as a community," Bowers said. "People see the business community as being anti-labor."

Potential businesses are scared away as a result, he said.

"Maybe it's a bad reputation that comments like that have created," said Suzanne Hayes, a nominee to the Economic Development Commission and a Chamber of Commerce official.

Hayes said no rift exists between labor and business leaders, and that's been the case since the 1960s.

"It feels like posturing heading into an election year," she said of Bowers' comments. "If he can cast the chamber as an enemy, there is less time to spend on how poorly the water and sewer system was managed and how poorly the landfill has been managed."

One labor leader applauded Bowers.

Brian McDonnell, an organizer at AFSCME, said relations with the Chamber of Commerce were not good.

"We'd like to work with them but they don't seem interested in that. They only seem to be interested in eradicating us," McDonnell said.

"We're not out to sink anybody's ship," he said. "Unfortunately, the climate has become so bad they don't want to talk to us, but like it or not, we're here to stay."

Wright said that most business people probably would prefer that their employees not be unionized.

"Probably one reason is we'd all like to think that we have a good enough rapport with our employees that we wouldn't need to bring in a third party," he said.

Bowers and Chamber of Commerce officials agreed that bickering must stop and people must begin working together to promote economic development.

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