VII. Hard Times - 1980-1999. "With Whirlpool getting out of the compressor business, we expect to see more and more foreign compressors in U.S. room units." William E. Macbeth, Executive at Tecumseh Products, 1983


A. Labor Trouble and a Recession

Asforeign competition increased, there was an ever-increasing need on the part of management to cut costs. Within the company a tension began to grow between the management (particularly at the corporate level) who viewed Union plants as prohibitively expensive and the Union employees who continued to fight to keep their jobs.

These tensions came to a head in 1980 when the Union walked out of contract negotiations with Tecumseh Products management. With the support of the U.A.W., Acklin went on a strike that lasted ten weeks and was marked by tension and frustration on both sides. After some serious negotiations, including concessions on both sides, Acklin's employees returned to the job.

Bythe early 1980s employment had slipped beneath 100 individuals for the first time since the company's founding. In 1982, as a part of an executive consolidation at Tecumseh, Phil Wood was promoted to Group Manufacturing Manager -Compressors. He was in charge of the operations at the Marion, Somerset, Acklin, and Tueplo plants and his office was moved to Tecumseh's headquarters.

Harold Krueger a second-generation, 37 year employee was named Acklin Plant manager, now the highest ranking position present at Acklin. Under Krueger a series of meetings called Employee Information Conferences were established in an effort to open communication between the employees and the management.

The Acklin Press, a 37 year old publication, ended its run 1984 due to budget cut backs. The paper had increasingly become an official voice of the companies' management, drifting away from the concerns and interests of the employees. There were fewer and fewer mentions of the plant's social activities and an increasing focus on Tecumseh Products and other Tecumseh Division. The spirit and idea of Acklin Stamping as an entity was gradually eroding.

In1983 Harold announced the recall of 51 hourly and 4 salaried employees. These additions doubled the number of employees at Acklin, for a time. Tecumseh also approved $316,200 in capital improvements used for improved equipment and building expansion. There was a shift in Tecumseh Product's production policy in 1983. The company had long held to the ideal of using solely American labor for compressors sold in the United States. But when Whirlpool stepped out of the business, a gaping hole was left that was quickly filled by a flood of cheaper foreign imports that could be produced abroad and shipped to America for a third of the price of domestically produced units. As a result, Tecumseh Products began to turn increasingly towards overseas production in an effort to cut costs and remain competitive.

The previous advantages held by American firms like Tecumseh over foreign companies were rapid technological improvements and highly trained and efficient workers. But as William Macbeth, Tecumseh's president said in a 1983 interview "engineering improvements [were] not enough to make a difference." Technology involved in the production of compressors had by this time become so finely honed that these improvements were hardly enough to make a difference between units, and cost became the deciding factor. As a result Tecumseh began to shift some of its production overseas.

Because of these shifts, Acklin's output and profits began to drop. The company's financial situation continued to decline, operating in the red for much of the mid-1980s. In February of 1986 the issues which had simmered since 1980 rose to the surface again when Acklin's 110 hourly employees went on strike. Tecumseh Products and Acklin's management seriously considered shutting down the plant and refused to give in to the worker's demands for cost of living increases and improved benefits. The company's threats were not idle, in fact in 1983 following violence during at strike at Tecumseh's Marion assembly plant, plans were made to shut that factory down.

1986 at the time of the strike a nationwide recession was in full force and there were few jobs available anywhere, particularly for production workers. Realizing this the strikers gave in after two weeks on February 22, 1986 without any wage or benefit concessions on the part of the company. They were able to reach an agreement with the Union however reducing the number of job classifications at the plant from over 35 to 13. This shift allowed workers greater flexibility, reducing their downtime and effectively increasing their pay. Previously after finishing their assigned tasks workers would remain idle for several hours, the high number of job classifications preventing them from doing other work they were capable of.

During the mid-1980s the company was not profitable but following these work rule changes and "a greater effort," Acklin "reduced costs and was able to add jobs" Ray Cox, Acklin General Manager, said in a 1988 Toledo Blade article. By the late 1980s, the company saw the recall of 30 of their laid off employees, increasing their workforce to 139 hourly positions. A heat wave during the summer of 1988 depleted supplies of air-conditioners around the country and increased Acklin's production from 2.5 million in 1987 to nearly 3 million throughout 1989. Acklin's business was also increasing during this time due to a weak dollar and strong international sales.

The company during these years also began a dedicated effort to find work, in Ray Cox's words "from other companies that use compressors or any others that use stamping that require deep-draw stamping expertise." These efforts however were largely unsuccessful. There hadn't been a sales department at Acklin since the merger with Tecumseh Products in 1954 as a result getting new contracts was rather difficult. As a result the entirety of Acklin's output remained with Tecumseh Products.

Phil Wood

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harold Krueger

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray Cox

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acklin Press ends.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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