Penn Fibre employees with the most years of service broke ground for the new building. Left to right are Wesley Hartzel (maintenance, 37 years); Bill O'Day (punching, 26 years); Brice Smart (shipping, 25 years); George West (extrusion molds, 39 years); Jim Mish (15 years); and General Manager John Cowperthwait.
New warehouse extension sign of employer's commitment to workers and their safety
Greenwood, Del. – Don't let anyone tell you that unions are killing American manufacturing jobs.
Recent developments at Ensinger/Penn Fibre in Greenwood, Delaware, suggest that at least one unionized manufacturer (the Teamsters have represented workers at the company for decades) is growing. And hiring.
At a ground-breaking ceremony on Sept. 20, 2012 for a warehouse extension to house new product, Local 355 members celebrated the company's forward progress and it's commitment to their jobs, their safety, and their community.
According to Local 355 Business Agent John Caparatta, Penn Fibre, manufacturer of high performance engineering plastics, was "on it's deathbed" six years ago. Since German-based Ensinger purchased the company it's been run well, Caparatta said. During the recession that began in 2008, sales dropped and employees were laid off. But in the last two years, the company has replaced most of the customers it lost and has turned itself around, adding workers and planning expansion.
A key factor in the company's decision to expand it's warehouse is concern for employee safety. General Manager John Cowperthwait told the employees that the company was undertaking proactive measures to avoid unnecessary accidents.
"You are all stakeholders," Cowperthwait told the workers. "We're in our third year of making profits and we're making an investment in this building because when they say this company is growing, it means we're growing in Greenwood. We're not going to make money on this, but we will make material handling safer."
Shop steward Jim Mish said the new space will give the workers more room. "I'm looking forward to seeing that happen because right now it's too congested in the building and the building extension will provide us with improved protection. It's all about safety. That's my priority."
"We work in cramped areas," explained David Keith, a shop steward for the past 15 years. "We're experiencing growth here, which means more product. The company's commitment tells us that it is willing to make a long-term investment to ensure the safety of its workers."
In addition to the construction of the warehouse extension begun this week, Cowperthwait announced three new initiatives for workers: production will be reduced by one hour per day, although overtime may be necessary, and employees will be provided a daily 10-minute stretching program by a professional trainer to increase flexibility. Finally, employees will be given five minutes every day to conduct a "safety walk" in their work area in order to "eliminate an accident that might be waiting to happen."
The company provided the union with updates on its expansion plans during the past year. "It always keeps us informed," said Keith.
Greenwood Mayor Donnie Donovan said he was glad to see Ensinger/Penn Fibre expanding. "It means it plans to stay a while. We need investments like this." Also in attendance at the ground-breaking was Town Manager John McDonald and Greenwood Police Chief Mark Anderson.
"I'm happy for everybody, all the way around," said Caparatta. "This is good for the business and its employees. It's a win-win."
Top left photo: Local 355 members gather for the ground-breaking ceremony.
Top right photo: (L-R) Shop steward David Keith Local 355 Business Agent John Caparatta; Operations Manager Mark Fischer; and shop steward Jim Mish.
Above photo: Penn Fibre employees, union officials and guests enjoyed a barbeque of pulled pork, fresh green beans, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.