Jobs Loss May Affect Who Wins The Vote
Bush campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said Ohio has begun its recovery, as evidenced by the creation of 4,300 jobs in March. "The people of Stark County know President Bush has acted aggressively to strengthen the Ohio and U.S. economies," Stanzel said. As for the Timken dispute, he says Bush "has great confidence in people at the local level to work to grow the economy and find solutions to challenges. Kerry's approach is to have people in Washington, D.C., make decisions about local problems."
The Timken Co., which doubled its profit and had record sales in the first quarter, needs concessions from its unionized workers to bring costs at the three Canton factories into parity with other U.S. plants, Saragian said. With overtime pay and incentives, hourly employees in Canton make about $25 an hour, according to the company; the union says the average employee earns $40,000 to $45,000 a year.
But the company says its primary concern is the rising cost of benefits, such as pension contributions and a fully paid hospital plan. "The facts are we're not competitive with other U.S. unionized facilities," Saragian said. "We can make them competitive, but we can't do that without some assurances" from the union.
The Steelworkers' Jasionowski, a 27-year Timken employee, says the union is willing to talk, but it would like assurances, too, such as job-security guarantees. "We want them to make a commitment," he says. "If these plants go, there's nothing left around here."
The political impact of the plant closures depends a lot on timing, says Rick Farmer, a political science professor at the University of Akron, just north of Canton in Summit County. If the factories were to shut in the fall, Farmer says, a "significant" economic impact on northeast Ohio would ripple throughout the area and could cause undecided voters to turn against the president.
"It needs to be an economic event," says Farmer, who teaches campaign management. "As a piece of bad publicity, it's still early. Bad publicity in October is one thing. But this is bad publicity" five months before Election Day. Still, he adds, "I could see that it would make for good pictures for Kerry to stand in the same place that George Bush stood to sell his tax and economic policies."
Timken has not said when it will close the factories, or where it will continue to produce the products made in Canton. Nevertheless, the threat has caused plenty of anger and anxiety outside the factory on Dueber Avenue.
"To me this is all about corporate greed and corporate terrorism," said Pat Eslich, a die setter/operator at Timken for 16 years. "We've made every [productivity] goal they've asked us for. The terrorism comes from scaring the workers that their jobs won't be around. They keep telling us, be competitive, be competitive, be competitive. We do that, and yet they still ship our jobs overseas."
One 34-year-old Timken employee, who refused to be identified, sounded more resigned than bitter. Standing in the employee parking lot one pleasant spring morning, he observed: "I think they're going to close this place no matter what. These jobs are going overseas. It would be ignorant of us to think that people in another country can't do what we do, and do it for a whole lot less. I don't like it, but that does seem to be the way things are going."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The Timken Co. announced in mid-May that it may close three plants in Canton. Tom Sibila, a 30-year employee, is among 1,300 workers affected.
(Tony Dejak -- AP)
About the Series|
This occasional series on the presidential election in Ohio, which both President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry have identified as a critical swing state, examines the evolving strategies and techniques for motivating supporters and persuading uncommitted voters in an age of deep partisan divides.