More than 500 factory workers, merchants, bankers, housewives and elected officials came to Washington yesterday from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to try to save the economy of Augusta County.
The delegation of mostly middle-aged men and women traveled 150 miles from the village of Verona in 13 buses to try to keep in business the American Safety Razor Co. plant that employs 800 local workers.
Philip Morris, which owns American Safety Razor, has said it will close the Verona plant because the Federal Trade Commission has moved to block the sale of the safety razor firm to the Bic Pen Corp.
Feeling powerless to deal with corporate decisions and federal regulatory actions that could eliminate their livelihood, Augusta County citizens took thei plea for help to Capitol Hill and the nearby offices of the Federal Trade Commission.
"That's my livelihood," said Raymond R. Nuckles as he marched around the FTC building. The 23-year American Safety Razor employee said, "If the plant closes down, I don't know what I will do. I've got to support my family (of four).Jobs are hard to find. You just don't go and find a job at age 45."
The delegation came to Washington from Augusta County out of desperation. The decisions about the plant's future were made it corporate headquarters in New York and Connecticut and in federal regulatory offices in Washington, and they felt powerless to influence them.
Most of the wrath was directed at the FTC, one of whose functions is preserving competition in industries such as razors and blades. But in blocking the sale of American Safety Razor - on the ground it would "lessen competition" - the FTC could have the opposite effect, if the company were closed.
"The loss of 800 jobs will have a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] effect on the entire community," said Mayor Michael E. Kivlighan of Staunton, 7 miles from the plant.
Augusta County already has an unemployment rate of 7 per cent and local officials said the area will not be able to provide jobs for those employees laid off at the razor blade company.
William L. Hall, chairman of an employee group called the Committee or Employees Concerned About Their Jobs, said 680 of the 800 employees threatened with unemployment have home mortgages. Those people may lose their homes, he said.
Hall said 470 of the 800 employees are unskilled and would encounter extreme difficulty in finding other work in the area.
"That's the only I have ever had," said Lucille Marion, a 15-year plant employee who received notice that Friday will be her last day of work. Three hundred employees already have been laid off at the plant, Hall said.
Carrying signs reading "Jimmy Help" and "FTC Cost Us our Jobs," the group had an "encouraging" meeting with FTC officials. Later they met with politicians who said they would urge Philip Morris and Bic to discuss the sale again.
The FTC, said on Feb. 9 that Bic's proposed acquisition of American Safety Razor threatened to reduce competition in the "wet-shave" industry, which had sales of $385 million last year. Owen Johnson, director of the FTC's bureau of Competition, said in an interview yesterday that such a merger would be in violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act.
But both Philip Morris and Bic claimed the sale would enhance competition. Clifford H. Goldsmith, executive vice president of Philip Morris, told the FTC that his company had decided to give up its 16-year struggle to make a dent in the Gillette Co.'s commanding 55 to 60 per cent of the market.
American Safety Razor's best hope, he said, lay with Bic, whose president was quoted in Business Week magazine as saying "All I want is 50 per cent of the market."
The FTC's Johnson said the acquisition might be acceptable under "certain alternatives," which he declined to detail. However, Bic vice president Alex Alexiades said, "If anything happens, it has to happen fast.We can't stand still."
According to Alexiades, Bic sought the acquisition because it wanted the manufacturing capability of American Safety Razor's plant and marketing know-how of the company's officials. American Safety Razor has about 11 per cent of the market.
Philip Morris's Goldsmith told the FTC that American Safety Razor's sales had "stagnated" for the past several years. Unable to make inroads into Gillette, Goldsmith said Philip Morris concluded it would be "imprudent" to sink more effort and money into sales efforts.
While a number of companies showed interest in ecquiring American Safety Razor in recent years, Goldsmith said Bic was the only firm that made an offer that would protect the employees' pension plan and match the book value of the Verona plant, about $20 million.
The trip, said Hall yesterday as the delegates left for Verona, brought (FTC) are talking in terms of antitrust and competition. They're trying to protect us as consumers, but they're killing us as employees."