Much of that future left Baltimore on January 13, 1994, when P&G closed down the Locust Point plant and ended the 215 jobs there. Now those jobs would be held by Chinese workers. And the American workers that used to earn their livelihood from P&G? They were left sitting on the curb.
P&G first got interested in China when it opened a plant in Taiwan in 1985. By 1988 it had its first factory on the mainland, in Guangzhou, just 81 miles to the north of Hong Kong. Today P&G employs 6,500 people in China and has invested more than $1 billion into the country.
On the day the Baltimore P&G plant had closed Jim Angelo had spent 24 of his 46 years there and hadn’t a clue what he’d do next. Joe Brockmeyer sat on the curb outside the plant, wondering what life held for him at the age of 44. Bob Bush, Jr. was the third generation of his family to work at the plant and he’d just been hoping he’d make it to age 60 when he’d get that gold watch. Instead he glanced at his cheap Kmart model anxiously, as if he had somewhere else to go.
“It's like graduating from high school,” said Frank Lenivy Jr., a second-generation worker as he moped outside the closed gates. “You know that most of these people you'll never see again.”
These were workers that once believed in the idea that America was selling them, that if you worked hard and were honest you’d always have a job. Sadly, that promise turned out to be a lie.
Plant manager Bonnie Curtis choked back tears while saying goodbye to her workers as the plant closed its doors for the last time. She knew the feeling well. Before Baltimore she'd worked at a P&G plant in Long Beach, California. When it closed in 1987 she’d moved back east, only to repeat the process seven years later.
She didn’t plan to repeat it again. When the new $60 million P&G shampoo and toothpaste factory opened in Guangzhou, China, a short time later Bonnie Curtis became the plant manager, overseeing 1,000 workers, nearly 800 more than she had in America.
So what ever happened to those workers? After all, P&G offered help finding new jobs, something that was awfully nice of them. I just wonder how many of those laid-off folks were able to enjoy their “Italian afterlife,” like former P&G CEO Edwin Artzt gushed he’d found upon becoming the executive director of Italy's largest pasta-maker, G&R Barilla in Parma.
Steve Daines and Outsourcing to China for P&G
For six long years Steve Daines worked for Proctor & Gamble in Hong Kong and in mainland China. His task was to ensure P&G would be able to get those 1,800 laid-off workers back, just at a much lower cost.
How low were these costs? Well, China didn’t institute a minimum wage system until the mid-1990s. Before that it’s really hard to say what the pay in China was like but we do know that wages were $0.64 cents an hour in China on average at a time when US factories were paying $21.11 and other countries were paying $14.22. Doesn’t sound too bad if you’re a Chinese factory owner, huh? I’m not sure the doubling of the inflation rate and the need to raise wages continuously for the next two decades because of it was what capitalist officials had in mind, however.
P&G also benefited in other ways. By taking advantage of the cheap labor pool in China they were able to get past duties on consumer products. Typically these duties range from 40% to 120% but companies like P&G, Unilever, and S.C. Johnson all take advantage of these beneficial loopholes that allow them to profit even more after shafting Americans.
That wave of closures in 1994 was part of a larger plan to close 30 of 147 plants and lay off 13,000 workers over three years. Proctor & Gamble had 103,500 workers before that and by 2012 P&G had 126,000 workers…most of the new hires being in China.
There’s a real disconnect in America and China between the workers and the bosses. Bosses think cutting costs and laying off workers is good for the bottom line, and it is…fantastically so. But it’s terrible for the country and when someone like Steve Daines claims he wants to help America all you have to do is look at his work in China. He sure helped America there, didn’t he?
Let me ask you, has that bar of Unilever or Ivory soap gotten any cheaper for you since 1994? I’m willing to bet the cost has gone up. Why is that? Weren’t these cut jobs supposed to ensure we’d save maybe $0.14 or even $0.21 on a bar of soap? I mean, this is keeping me up at night!
That’s why Steve Daines would make such a poor choice as a U.S. Senator – because he’s going to hurt Americans more than he helps.
Bonnie Curtis is now working in China because of what Steve Daines did for America; Bob Busch, Jr. is still waiting on that gold watch. Don’t let your family be the same – vote no to Steve Daines in November.
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