In Our View – Bye bye Blue Bunny

I’ve officially been handed the reins of the editorial page at the Specturm & Daily News so I’ll be writing the opinions of the editorial board a little more often. I’m posting them on my blog as a way of archiving some of the pieces of which I’m most fond because they don’t live forever on… This one was published on Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014.

 St. George received a bit of bad news from the labor market front on Tuesday when Blue Bunny confirmed they will be closing their St. George plant.

Anytime a business announces a plant closure in Southern Utah — and there have been more than a few over the past few years — you have to pause for a moment and feel a bit of sympathy for the people whose lives will be impacted by lost jobs and lost incomes.

Some hurt more than others. We’ve had larger closures than Blue Bunny’s. We saw 350 people lose their jobs in Cedar City when O’Sullivan closed their plant there in 2000, and about 220 people lost jobs when Viracon closed its doors in St. George in early 2013, but honestly, the numbers don’t matter if it’s your job leaving town.

The next few months will bring plenty of challenges to the Blue Bunny employees whose jobs just vanished.

They’ll be refreshing resumes and pounding the pavement looking for work.

We sympathize with those who are now or will soon be out of a job. We hope their searches for employment will be short and that they’ll land even better jobs than the ones they lost with Blue Bunny.

But it’s part of the American model of capitalism that’s responsible for events such as these. Capitalism dictates that struggling businesses will close up shop, but hopefully, stronger, more vibrant businesses will quickly step in to fill the voids left behind.

We’ve got a fairly diversified local manufacturing economy, and our local and state representatives are continually doing their best to bring more and more manufacturing jobs to the state and to the area.

Losing the Blue Bunny plant will hurt, but gaining Family Dollar, SyberJet, the Industrial Brush Corporation and Litehouse Foods in the past few years are just a few examples of the kinds of successes that our local representatives can brag about when it comes to luring manufacturing and light industrial jobs to Southern Utah.

We have a great location for light manufacturing. We have a state government that’s extremely business-friendly and we have a fairly well-educated work force, so there’s no reason to think we can’t find a bigger and better replacement for Blue Bunny.

Blue Bunny has been a model business in our community for the past decade. It’s provided ice cream at more than a few city sponsored events, including the St. George Marathon, and there will be more than a few runners saddened to see that there won’t be an ice-cold Bomb Pop waiting for them at the finish line anymore. And that doesn’t take into account the many private charitable events in which Blue Bunny took part.

Blue Bunny will be missed, but there are other business opportunities out there. It will be difficult, but we can and we will eventually do better.

In Our View – Honoring the American worker

I’ve officially been handed the reins of the editorial page at the Specturm & Daily News so I’ll be writing the opinions of the editorial board a little more often. I’m posting them on my blog as a way of archiving some of the pieces of which I’m most fond because they don’t live forever on… This one was published on Monday, Sep. 1, 2014.

We hope you enjoyed the three-day weekend.

If you did, you might want to pause for just a moment and ponder the reason why Americans take the day off every year on the first Monday in September.

It is after all, Labor Day. A federal holiday set aside to honor the American worker and organized labor.

And, for the most part, it’s organized labor most of us have to thank for the fact that we enjoy even our regular two day weekends, let alone this particularly long one.

The word itself, “weekend” didn’t even exist until around 1870 when the United States was well into the industrial revolution.

At the time, most employers insisted their workers, and not just men, but women and children too, put in 10 to 16 hours days, seven days a week.

Labor unions began the push for eight-hour days, overtime, child labor laws and yes, they pushed for and won the right that most American workers now enjoy, a day of rest on Sunday, and another on Saturday for those who celebrate the Sabbath a day earlier.

Lunch breaks, worker’s compensation, retirement benefits, employer provided health care insurance, paid vacation, holiday pay, safer working environments, these are just a few of the benefits most Americans enjoy now because organized labor fought for them a century and a half ago.

Have unions lost their way at times? Sure. It’s awfully hard to win concessions from unions reluctant to give back benefits their members enjoy even when the very existence of the company they work for is at stake.

And now, when unions seem particularly weak and ineffective, especially in right to work states like Utah, the reasons for their very existence in the modern age is easy to call into question.

To be certain, there is a balance that should be sought between organized labor and the corporations that employ their members. Both entities should be striving to create a thriving business that supports stock holders and workers alike.

As we approach the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Great Recession, American workers are still seeing stagnant wages despite record highs on the stock market and soaring corporate profits.

Would stronger unions in the United States be able to help the American worker begin to share in those profits more quickly? Probably.

But would those stronger unions have allowed companies to make the choices they need to to survive by reducing workforces and cutting costs with the economy in free-fall in early 2008? Probably not.

Yet it’s clear we’re out of balance. The Occupy movement and the outrage most Americans feel about extraordinarily generous CEO salaries are just two indicators of the growing anger the middle class is feeling over the widening wealth gap in America.

And unions alone can’t solve the problem now, just as they didn’t solve the problems alone in the early days of the labor movement.

It took the vision of savvy businessmen like Henry Ford, a man who despised unions but gave his employees a “weekend” long before it was common practice, not for altruistic reasons or because striking union workers forced him to but because he saw it as a sound business decision.

He recognized that if workers were stuck in factories seven days a week, they’d have no way to go out for a Sunday drive and less reason to buy a Model-T. Ford advocated for the weekend and made commercials promoting the idea of the weekend road trip and thus helped usher in the era of the five-day work week.

There are in fact more than a few CEOs out there right now who could learn a lesson from Henry Ford. In the consumer driven economy of the 21st century, paying workers more and lifting those stagnant wages would put more money in consumers pockets with which they could, in fact, buy more goods and services and increase profits for shareholders and employees alike.

Happy Labor Day.

Best of 2014 (rough cut, January – July)

I’ll trim these down come contest time in early 2015 but this is the first rough cut of my favorite images of 2014 so far…