Workers sacrifice to keep jobs

March 14, 2009|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The orders from corporate headquarters were bleak and gave Nancy Reeder almost no choice: Cut expenses by 70 percent and do it now.

Reeder, for 18 years the boss at Clean Earth of Maryland Inc.'s recycling operation at 1469 Oak Ridge Place near Funkstown, had "never had to lay off a worker, so that was something I really struggled with."

Her decision, effective the last week of February, divided Clean Earth's three office and nine production employees into two teams - each week, while one team works, the other is laid off.

And vice versa, week after week.

"It's a serious hardship for them, but it was the fairest and the less traumatic way," Reeder said. "It allowed everyone to continue to accrue vacation and personal days, as well as have access to their medical, dental, 401(k) and flexible spending accounts."


In the meantime, Reeder said, her four salaried workers - an engineer and three managers - volunteered and each are working close to 20 extra hours per week without pay to help fill in and keep the business going.

Reeder said the company's salaried workers have offered to give up 10 percent of their base pay, as she has done.

"They've offered to work those 20 hours extra a week, and take a pay cut," she said. "The engineer is still doing his main job, but he is also doing yard inspections. All three of the other managers take turns pulling samples of loads from trucks, inspecting them to be sure it is what we were told it was going to be."

"And, they are also running the street sweeper," making sure any mud that the trucks drop is cleaned off the road leading to Clean Earth's operations, she said.

The business, known here as Clean Rock Industries until about five years ago, is permitted by Maryland to treat petroleum-contaminated soil and reuse it. The company also crushes rock, concrete, cinder block and other such rubble into a mixed material for use on farm lanes and driveways, in road paving and as a road base for concrete or asphalt.

"We finished 2008 fairly strong, but early 2009 has seen a 70 percent decrease in sales volume" throughout Clean Earth's parent company, Reeder said.

She said she's optimistic the crisis is short-term "and that we can return to normal in the next six or eight weeks."

Until then though, "everyone who is working is working twice as hard as they normally would," she said. "They're having to work as a team and truly pick up the slack and do anything that needs to be done. They've been wonderful to each other."

Many people across the country, and locally, are making some sacrifices to keep their jobs.

Or know someone who is.

In conversation by the coffeepot, at church or out on the street, you hear of a friend, a neighbor or a spouse whose benefits have been suspended, whose workweek has been cut or whose pay has been reduced as the nation's recession deepens.

Yet, again and again, as word of the sacrifices spread, so, too, are the stories of people pulling together, determined to make it through.

An overwhelming response

As president of Brooke Grove Foundation, Keith Gibb has to make a lot of choices affecting his 200 employees at Williamsport Retirement Village and 300 others at retiree care facilities elsewhere.

But few decisions have been as difficult as the cuts that had to be made after Maryland, itself hurt by the recession, eliminated $300,000 in Medicaid reimbursements to the nonprofit foundation.

"Our strategic planning committee looked at everything we could do and realized fairly quickly that we could not do that without affecting our labor," Gibb said. "So we talked about our values - and loyalty and longevity are part of that. And we made the decision to ask our employees, in lieu of what would have been about 15 lost jobs in our organizations, to take a pay cut, across the board."

Several of what the company calls "town meetings" were held at the foundation's work sites in Williamsport and Sandy Spring, Md., and in Meyersdale, Pa., said Michel Ochoa, Brooke's director of human resources.

Gibb, who has worked at the foundation since 1975, led every meeting, reading a letter explaining the situation and the proposed action to the employees.

"We asked everyone to take a 2 1/4 percent pay cut," Gibb said. "And the leadership team - anyone who was on the committee who voted for the cut - took a 3 1/4 percent pay cut. We thought it was important for the people who voted it to lead."

The employees' reaction was unexpected.

"In one location, they actually stood up and applauded, if you can actually imagine people being asked to take a pay cut doing that," Gibb said. "It was extraordinary.

"It was very difficult, but it was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my career because of the employees' response."

Ochoa, who also is a member of the leadership team, said she was emotionally overcome by the response.

"It was very overwhelming in that everybody was very supportive," she said. "I don't think any of us anticipated what reaction we would get.

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