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Colgate blame shouldn’t be placed on Bush

Georgetown, Ind.

I wanted to contact you in response to some of the things said in the news story that detailed the events that went on while Joe Biden was campaigning in Jeffersonville.

Juanita Sneed, a Colgate employee for 23 years, apparently spoke to kick off the event. Some of the things that were stated were that Colgate had over 1,000 employees in Jeffersonville when she started working there and that the plant closed in December to be moved to Mexico. Additionally, she made the statement that the Bush Administration has been disastrous for working people.

I, too, worked for Colgate. In my case it was for 11 years. I was able to get my foot in the door by coming in as a temporary employee without benefits, and after 18 months of working to prove myself, I was hired on as a permanent employee. Plant employment was around 700 people when I was brought in as a temp in 1995, but very soon after Colgate announced a reorganization that eliminated the detergent lines and around half of our workforce with it. The downsizing of 350 workers happened three years into Bill Clinton's presidency, but I don't blame him for our community's loss any more than I blamed George Bush when the plant closure was announced in October 2005. Although some of our plant's production was shifted to a plant in Mexico, it is important to know that a large portion of the Jeffersonville plant's production (which had grown back to nearly 500 in 2005) went to a brand-new plant that was built in Morristown, Tenn.

I know several folks who grew up in the towns that border Morristown, Tenn., and one of them mailed me a large newspaper story about the plant's grand opening down there. The people down there are very excited; our loss was their gain. In contrast, I remember around 2001 being in Jeffersonville during a class taught by trainers that Colgate had sent from the New York area. I was appalled that just after the trainers started their lesson, several of our Jeffersonville employees snapped open newspapers and held them in front of their faces in a deliberate showing of disrespect. I have to believe that acts of nonsense like this helped hammer nails into the Jeffersonville plant's coffin more than any president.

My situation was more fortunate than many folks working at the Jeffersonville Colgate plant because at the time of the announced plant closure, my entire department (approximately 50 people) was offered a fully paid relocation to move our jobs to New Jersey. Southern Indiana is my home and where I want to be, and so after turning down the relocation offer, I walked out the door along with most of my friends in my department for the last time in mid-2006. I still feel sad when I pass the plant these days, and I hate that our community has lost such a great company. I also feel bad for the folks who didn't have a plan when their jobs ended, but I am curious how sympathetic most folks are who don't have ties to Colgate employees. After all, although we didn't get to retire from Colgate, we did get to enjoy the ride for a considerable amount of time. I could contrast working for Colgate to working for the small factories where I labored from 1988 to 1995, but in a nutshell I felt like I hit the lottery by coming to Colgate when compared to my previous jobs.

Speaking of retirement, it was also mentioned during the Biden campaign event that many people were not eligible for pensions even after 23 years. Colgate has tremendous benefits and while I was there they were fully funding a retirement plan and also matched 70 cents per dollar on my 401K plan. Thousands more dollars were placed into my plan annually in the form of success sharing and retiree insurance. They also had developed other innovative ways to save for retirement where bonus dollars were completely shielded from any form of taxes while being automatically placed into our 401K plans with a 18.45-percent match. I did not walk away from my job with Colgate with a pension, but I did walk away with a big pile of retirement money after only 10 years of being eligible for their plan. Personally, I'd take the pile of cash over a pension any day.

Whether you were looking for help from local, state or federal government, I think Indiana would have had a very difficult time putting together an incentive package to keep Colgate in Indiana because other states undercut Indiana's offer in such a drastic manner. Consider that hourly wages at the Jeffersonville plant averaged over $20 per hour while Tennessee offered incentives to land the new Colgate plant where wages were to be only around $12 per hour. Should our area residents have been saddled with the tax burden to subsidize our employee's wages in order to keep the plant?

After leaving Colgate, I struggled for awhile, but then I had offers to work for several great companies, such as Coca Cola and IBM, but I chose a fantastic company in Louisville. Truth be told, it was training that Colgate gave me that made me so marketable. Most of my old friends from the department also seem to have weathered the storm of the lay-off to land better jobs.

I look back fondly at all the experiences I had while with Colgate, but at the same time I still look to the future as being full of opportunity. I was passionate in my desire to respond to some of what was said during Joe Biden's speech because it paints the past eight years in such a negative way. To paraphrase the words of Dave Ramsey, I think that people would be much better served by looking into the mirror and asking, "What do I have to do to get where I want to go?," instead of seeing a world of despair and feeling entitled that the government solves their problems. Biden's words seem to be conveying the latter way of thinking, and I just don't agree.

Rich Walker
October 08, 2008

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