VI. Stability and Decline, 1965-1980


C. The 1970's at Acklin - Problematic Prospects

Acklin's prosperity continued into the early 1970s. Tecumseh's investment from 1966-1970 of nearly 1.5 million dollars into new equipment and buildings for Acklin kept the company on the cutting edge of technology. Demand for air conditioner compressors remained high and business was good. In December of 1970 Acklin stamped the 100 millionth compressor housing made at Acklin, nearly 75 million of which were produced in the 20 years following Tecumseh's purchase of Acklin.

But things would never again be so good. In 1971 the first signs of a nationwide recession began to appear. Foreign imports which sold far cheaper than domestic goods began to cut into the demand. Increased automation began to eat away at the number of workers required to produce the same amount of output.

InApril of 1973, Raymond Herrick passed away. Although he had not had an active role in the company's day to day running for some time, his presence and guidance still had a lot to do with how the company was run. Following his death, several employees at Acklin during this time remembers that things changed for the worse. Cordia Ross, a press operator on the small line, put it frankly, "after he passed away they didn't give out any turkey dinners anymore."

Herrick was succeeded by his son, Ken Herrick, and then his grandson, Tim Herrick. Having grown up under wealthy, privileged circumstances they did not share their father's attitudes about management. Responding to rising inflation, increasing competition, and shrinking profit margins they began to view union-organized plants as unnecessarily expensive to operate. An employee at the time remembers "they ordered their people not to talk to us, not to look at us as they passed us in the aisles."

But at Acklin itself, on the production floor, a camaraderie survived among the employees. "This place has always been a family place" one longtime employee said, "a lot of people grew up here." The high seniority rate, which averaged between 20 and 30 years, the low turnover rate, and the small size of the plant helped to solidify this bond.

Bythe mid 1970's the energy crisis had begun to affect Acklin. Increasing fuel prices drove up the costs of operation at Acklin and furthered the demand for more efficient and automated presses. These changes caused Acklin to form an Energy Conservation Committee in 1973. The committee was made up of both management and union leaders and was in charge of finding solutions to the problems presented by the energy shortage. Their recommendations included cutting back use of natural gas and instead using heating oil, and to better utilize heat sources within the plant -- during the cold winter months they placed fans near the machines to distribute that heat rather than running the furnace.

InDecember of 1973, Lewis Mattox, the longtime Union Chairman retired after nearly 40 years at Acklin. Involved with the union from its formation, Lewis was a leader in the Toledo's labor community, often serving as a representative to national AFT-CIO and UAW conventions. In an article in the Acklin Press written at the time of his retirement Lewis commented on what he's learned over the past 40 years:

"Well, I've learned to be a progressive conservative, which is a pretty good balancing act for a man of my age. I'm still young you know. I'm good enough union man to know that plant has to move ahead, has to produce and do it efficiently enough to meet competition. I know that the stuff that moves out the backdoor is the stuff that makes our paychecks good at the bank. When both plant and management work together all of us gain."

Lewis was an inspiration to many at Acklin, including Linda Straub, the union chair in the year 2000, who said "Lewis gave everybody guidance. When Lewis spoke it was like E. F.. Hutton, everybody listened... Lewis was a big time leader." He wasn't afraid to stand up for Acklin employees during contract negotiations and was proud of the benefits package he and the union had crafted with Tecumseh Products. After Lewis left the union had less power and less resolve, the Tecumseh Management forced Acklin into progressively weaker contracts, building tension that would surface in strikes in 1980 and 1986 and eventually lead to Tecumseh's sale of Acklin in 1998.

Throughout the rest of the decade regardless of their efforts, material shortages and a decreased demand caused dramatic reductions in Acklin's work force and Tecumseh's profits. As a result, starting in 1975, a large number of management and supervisory jobs were combined, eliminated, or re-assigned. Employees were forced to increase their efforts of decreasing scrap and increasing productivity. During this period many longtime employees began to retire. Little effort was made to hire new workers in their places and their jobs were consolidated. Increased automation and decreasing profitability made large numbers of employees unnecessary.

Throughout the remainder of the 1970's Acklin was held to a gas and fuel oil quota based on their 1972 usage, a restriction that forced them to cut profits. By 1979 a Federal Energy Regulation was handed down that demanded the company set the temperature no higher than 65 degrees. During the mid-1970s plans were drawn up to purchase a massive Verson press capable of exerting 1200 pounds of pressure onto a sheet of metal. This press was fully automated and programmable and therefore able to perform each and every step necessary to turn rolled steel into a finished product at the rate of 1200 housings an hour. The company and their management at Acklin, claimed that as a result of this press the company might be able to add more jobs, arguing that if they produce more housings that would require more welders and more small line operators. However reality proved differently. When the press was installed in 1978, production remained roughly the same, but the number of workers declined. This press, and other automated presses like it caused Acklin's employment to fall from nearly 600 employees in 1969 to less than 100 employees heading into the 1980s.

Raymond Herrick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis Mattox retires

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fixing a part, 1970s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lewis Mattox, Harry Kessler, and Hubert Humphrey, 1971.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Die Setters, 1975.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Installing a press, 1978

 

 

 


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