The Employee Free Choice Act – A Rising Tide Threatens Our Competitive Edge

 A sweeping sea of change is set to change the course of labor relations across this nation that will have a dramatic impact on the Charlotte region and Lake Norman businesses.  A bill called The Employee Free Choice Act has been introduced in both Houses of Congress and President Obama has given strong support to this legislation. For non-union employers, the world is about to change.

Many of us with roots in the area may have family and friends that were employed in the once preeminent textile industry.  Both sets of my grandparents and many of our relatives worked at the various mills which dominated our local economy.  Then in the early to mid 1980’s, many of the textile companies lost the competitive edge to international markets which supplied products less expensively.  Strikes and labor negotiations between the unions and management broke down as plant after plant closed its doors leaving workers displaced and wondering where they would turn.  For many, their job at the local plant was the only position they had ever held leaving them with an uncertain future and limited skills. union

Over the last fifty years, unions have been in decline. For much of the time, total union membership grew, but not as fast as the workforce. So the percentage of union members in the workforce declined. In recent years, union membership has been declining in absolute terms as well. Unions are tired of losing elections or winning the election, but not getting a contract. Hence the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill contains the following provisions:

There would be no more secret ballot elections for union representation. When a union got more than half the employees in a workplace to sign union cards, the union would be recognized.

  • Penalties for employer unfair labor practices would be increased significantly.
  • If the parties cannot agree to a contract within 120 days, an arbitrator would write the parts of the contract about which the parties could not agree.

It is much easier to get employees to sign union cards than it is to get them to cast a secret ballot for the union. Peer pressure can get signatures. But peer pressure does not work as well when the employee is marking a secret ballot. Indeed, most unions require their organizers to get 65% of employees to sign cards before the union will petition the Labor Board for an election. Yet unions still lose lots of elections. So the card check provision of the law makes organizing easy.

But the arbitration of contract terms should be of equal concern to employers. Today, nothing goes in a contract unless the employer agrees. But under the EFCA, an arbitrator could impose terms on an employer that the employer would never agree to.

Do small business need to be concerned? Absolutely! Studies have shown that it is much easier for a union to organize a small business than a large one. One reason is that it is much easier to keep union activity a secret among a smaller group of people. Large companies are prepared for union activity. They have large sophisticated Human Resource departments to manage employee relations.

Much like the storm which swept away much of the textile industry many years ago, this legislation could be the last blow for many of our businesses that are already facing intense competition.  This could be the final straw that some companies may use to move their operations offshore to countries where unions are non-existent.  As we rebuild our struggling economy, we do not need to lose more jobs to international competition.  A major competitive advantage for North Carolina has been our status as a right to work state and low union activity.  If this bill passes, there will be a renewed emphasis by the AFL-CIO to change the face of our labor force in the Carolinas.  The Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce is strongly opposed to this proposed legislation and we encourage you to call or write your Senators and members of Congress and share your concerns as well.

Unanswered Prayers

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I am, as my favorite author Lewis Grizzard said, fortunate to be an American by birth and a Southerner by the Grace of God.  As a student of history, I recently ran across a prayer recorded from a Confederate soldier many years after the “War of Northern Aggression”.  Sometimes we all wonder why bad things happen to good people.  We wonder why God allows misery and misfortune to be a part of lives.  Why does he or she given your perspective not step in and improve our lot in life when we pray so hard for his intervention.  This prayer written so long ago really puts so much in perspective.  I hope you find it as enriching as I have:

 

I asked God for strength that I might achieve

I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health that I might do greater things

I was given infirmity that I might do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life

I was given life that I might endure all things.

I got nothing that I asked for

But everything that I could have hoped for…

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am among all men most richly blessed.

  

On this beautiful day…

God bless     

Angels Among Us

While our business community continues to be challenged by the current economy, there are some leading economic indicators pointing to very positive signs. It was also rewarding last month to see Cornelius ranked as #7 nationally as the “Best American Suburb” and Mooresville touted as the #1 Micropolitan community for new and expanding industry. Quite simply – it is good to be recognized as the Best of the Best.

In a week when the accolades poured, perhaps the one which made me feel best was from Sandy Tilley who runs the Angels & Sparrows Soup Kitchen in Huntersville. Sandy told our Kiwanis group that volunteers and contributions from area businesses has been in one word – “overwhelming.”

While it came as no surprise to me that Lake Norman was cited as the best place to live, work, and visit, I have to confess I was not aware that facing our current economic plight, benevolence was quite so high. Generosity is nothing new for our region. Just a few months ago we recognized Bruce Forest for his work with the Cornelius Animal Shelter. However, while Bruce was credited, and rightly so for his involvement, the credit also lies with the countless volunteers and donors who made that dream a reality.

I’m reminded about the story of the 8-year old boy that went to a pet store with his dad to buy a new puppy. The store manager showed them to a pen where five little furry balls gathered together. After a while, the boy noticed one of the litter all by itself in an adjacent pen. The boy asked why that puppy was all alone. The manager explained, “The puppy was born with a bad leg and will be crippled for life, “so we’re going to have to put him to sleep.” “You’re going to kill this little puppy?” the boy said sadly while patting it. The manager replied, “You don’t understand he’ll never be able to run and play with a boy like you.”

After a short conversation with his son, the dad told the store manager he and his son wanted to buy the puppy with a bad leg. “For the same money you can have any of the healthy ones. Why do you want this one?” inquired the manager. To answer the manager’s question, the child bent over and pulled up his pants on his right leg, exposing the brace underneath. “Mister, I want this one because I understand what he’s going through.”009_9

When there is so much about today we can lament – the climbing unemployment, lagging sales, uncertain futures – Lake Norman residents are still compassionate. We care as much about each other as we care about ourselves. It’s true that the worst of times often brings out the best in each other. It’s also true that when times seem the worst, Angels walk among us.

They work in soup kitchens, care for neglected strays, deliver meals on wheels, and volunteer with a church or civic club. You will not recognize them by the wings on their back or footprints in the sand but by the smiles on their face. They are God’s gift and a reminder we are never truly alone.

Lake Norman Makes Big Splash in BusinessWeek Magazine

ln_summerEvery day, Americans across this country continue to read and hear about the negative economic indicators citing our economic recession. While we in the Lake Norman community share in the challenging and uncertain market, many of our business and community leaders can take great pride in what readers across this nation are just finding out – the Lake Norman region is a great place to live, work and visit. BusinessWeek Magazine has reinforced that claim by naming Cornelius one of the country’s Ten “Best Affordable Suburbs.”  

Cornelius was ranked #1 in North Carolina and 7th overall in the nation. The magazine pointed out such factors as livability, which includes short commutes, low pollution and amount of green space. The editors at BusinessWeek also examined crime rates, job growth, median household income, median home prices and the quality of schools. Recently a reporter called the Lake Norman Chamber for a reaction – was this a welcome surprise? Welcome – yes. Surprise? Not really!

 

Accolades are nothing new to our region. In 2005, the Town of Huntersville was ranked in the Top 100 Best Places to Live (#76) by Money Magazine. The Town of Mooresville has routinely been heralded as one of the nation’s best communities to host new and expanded facilities in Site Selection magazine’s Top 100 Small Towns in America. Davidson, whose population figures usually prevent the town from being considered in national ranking, received more publicity than perhaps any economic development firm or advertising agency could produce when the Davidson Wildcats Basketball Team took the nation by storm falling one basket short of a NCAA Final Four Appearance last March.

What makes our region special? The recognition is a testament to the leadership of our elected officials, business leaders, and civic and service clubs, organizations, and churches who have given their time and talent to make this region a cut above the rest. When there is still much to lament when reading about vacancy rates, unemployment numbers, and falling retail sales, there is still so much to be thankful for. This recent ranking by BusinessWeek Magazine is a testament to so many blessings we enjoy. The lake living lifestyle and our small towns’ charm make our quality of life second to none.  ski

We are excited that one of our towns was singled out as the Best of the Best. However, to the area resident who may live in Cornelius, shop in Huntersville, work in Mooresville, and go to church in Davidson – it is all one big community. Economic downturns and market corrections are never welcome although they are necessary in a capitalistic society.

The Lake Norman Chamber is committed to helping our businesses weather this storm and will continue to provide the training and networking opportunities to help market and promote a healthy business climate. We can take comfort that Lake Norman is a great place to be in a bad time. More importantly, good times and bad, our region is a shining beacon to all as a great place to live, work, and visit.

Precious Memories

“Precious father, loving mother fly across the lonely years and old home scenes of my childhood in fond memory appear.”   I sang along and as the words rolled off my tongue, memories of years gone by played through my head.

Grandaddy Working in his garden

Granddaddy Russell working in his garden

A few weeks ago, a song came on the radio.  Just the few opening notes brought a warm shudder across my body    Precious Memories.  The song was a favorite of my Grandfather Russell.    I spent many summer afternoons working out on the family farm with Granddaddy.  Feeding the cows, working in the garden, and tending downed fence line was an every day chore.  On one particular, hot summer day, Granddaddy and I were replacing an old rotten post down by the creek.  The decaying post still held the fence in place but the cows now squeezed through and occasionally were found on the other side. Granddaddy dug out a bit from the post until it rocked loosely in its hole.  He then looked over at me and asked me to go ahead and remove it.  I was perhaps twelve at the time as I wrapped my arms tightly around the pole and gave it a mighty tug.

 

It raised out of the ground but suction pulled it back and it sank back to the bottom.  No matter how much I wrestled with it, I simply couldn’t free the post from the persistent ground.  Granddaddy smiled at me and asked if I was using all of my strength.  When I replied certainly I was, he chuckled a bit.  Granddaddy, who had been leaning back on the tractor, took his gloves out of his pocket and replaced them on his old calloused hands.  “No doc,” he said, “if you used all of your strength you’d ask me to help ya’.  Working together, we can get it done.”  Sure enough, with both of our arms tightly wrapped around the post, it hesitated, and then slipped from the earthly grip.

 

The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful tool when it is used and its real strength is when businesses work together.  No doubt we face challenging months ahead with this economy.  However, we can support each other by purchasing our goods and services from one another.  Refer Chamber members to other friends and associates and make it a habit to get involved.

 

We are going to continue to provide you outstanding networking opportunities and seminars that provide you the tools for your toolbox that makes you competitive.  However, you have to take advantage of your membership and get in the game, as Chairman Hettwer would say.  Often, we have the strength to overcome any adversity if we just realize we’re not in this thing alone.  Let’s use our greatest strength and work together.

 

My Dad still lives out on the family farm tending our cows.  Occasionally, I’m asked to come down and replace another of those aging posts, many of which were put in the ground when I was a little boy.  They stand as silent sentries to my granddaddy’s hard work.  The summer days working with my grandfather still linger in my mind.  The lessons learned flood my soul.  Those precious memories …how they do linger.

Now’s the Time to Turn it up!

This past month I was asked to speak at a South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) meeting in Columbia.  My participation in Jaycees is really what led me into a Chamber career.  For those unfamiliar with Jaycees, it is a service organization for young people ages 21-39 years old much like Optimist, Kiwanis, and Rotary.

When I joined the Jaycees in 1982, I was just looking to get involved. However, when an opportunity of leadership availed itself, I volunteered to be an officer.  Within a short time I was chapter president.  In a few years state president and in 1992, I was elected president of the United States Jaycees.  In that capacity I traveled to 47 states and 7 countries speaking to Jaycee chapters and other groups about the importance of community service.

Inevitably I also met with chapters who were struggling with membership.  On roll they may have 15 folks but only 5 or 6 were coming out to meetings or projects.  Often the chapter president would confide they had cut back on the amount of projects because they simply didn’t have the manpower to run them.  That’s the last thing they needed to do!  Now’s the time they needed to increase their activity, run more projects, and increase their exposure.  “People in the community need to see you in action.  You can’t recruit new members if they don’t know what you do.”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself and lamenting how good things were when you had more folks.  Go out there and do your job – make a difference in your community – and people will want to be a part of your success.”   I can’t tell you how many chapter leaders told me over the years that the message we delivered worked for their chapter.   They did turn up the energy and through the exposure of running new projects, new members joined.

Today, many of our businesses remind me of those struggling civic clubs.  When things get tight, we look at ways to minimize our expenses.  Often the first thing we do is cut back on our marketing and exposure.  Perhaps we spend more time at the office and less out in the field.

When things are at their worst is when we must be at our best.  Now is the time to increase your exposure.  When all around competitors might be scratching their heads what to do, you need to get your message to that potential customer or client.  Use your Chamber membership.  Don’t let a networking opportunity slip by that you don’t get in front of another business.

Get out in the community attending local events and programs.  Use every opportunity to showcase why people should do business with you.  The bottom line is this recession we are experiencing is a natural correction of the market.  Just as the sun will set tonight, the day will dawn tomorrow and we can’t have a rainbow without getting a little rain.

In a few months, our economy will come charging back and I expect this region will see recovery sooner than other parts of the country.  We at the Chamber will do everything we can to provide the networking opportunities and create programs that give you the tools for your toolbox that enable you not only to survive but thrive in this challenging time.    However, it’s up to you whether you pull back like a turtle in its shell or you seize the opportunity to promote your business.

As I told those Jaycees many years ago, “There’s nothing we cannot overcome when we work hard, work smart, and work together!”

New Relationships

Since the beginning of time, mankind has wrestled with its ability to create and maintain healthy relationships.  Some of us have great personal relationships but have difficulty building strong ties in our professional lives.  Others are champions in their professional field but struggle with balancing their affairs at home with family or close personal friends.  Regardless of who we are or what we do, the one constant is we all have to deal with other people and to be truly successful in any endeavor we must be masters at the ability to manage and maintain healthy relationships.

    

Not long ago, I heard a preacher telling the story of a castaway who was stranded on an island all by himself for two decades.  As the old man gathered up his belongings he had collected over his long stay, the captain of the rescuing vessel remarked at the three buildings on the island.  “If you were the only one on the island all these years, why are there three different structures?,” inquired the ship captain.  “Well,” began the old man.  “The first hut was the house I built for myself.  Then I realized I must build a church to thank the Lord for my deliverance from the sea.”

The ship captain waited patiently for the explanation for the third building.  Seeing none forthcoming, he asked, “What’s the purpose of the third structure?”  The old man looked dejected, shrugged his shoulders a bit, and said, “To be completely honest, things were going great for a while.  But one day the congregation had a fight and I just left and built a new place.”

Everyone in the church howled with laughter at the preacher’s story but deep down many of us knew his point.  We see strife in relationships played out every day in athletics, politics, offices, and our home.  Someone usually comes out on top and someone else loses.  Usually the issue is not so much the loss, but how they feel they were treated in losing.

In business or any other field, the single most important element of success is learning how to get along with people.  Outstanding leaders learn to develop great relationships.  We are all treated well on the way up but how will we be treated on the way down?  That is the true measurement of how good we are in dealing with people.

James MacGreggor Burns once said, “In real life, the most practical advice for leaders is not to treat pawns like pawns, or princes like princes, but all persons like persons.”  Like the old castaway, we can move from relationship to relationship, turning our back and burning bridges, or we can recruit and nurture our associations with others.  At the end of the day, it is not the machinery, the facility, or the strategy that will allow for our success – it is the people who make it possible.