Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lay off

Two campaign commercials have now asserted that our company laid off 1,400 Michigan workers while Dick DeVos was our president.

That is baloney. These are the facts:

The Democratic Party ad cited a July 19, 2005 Free Press column by Tom Walsh noting that between 1997 and 2005, our Michigan workforce went from 5,300 to 3,900. No mention – none – of layoffs.

5,300 to 3,900? Yes, we are truly sorry to say – though the changes we made have left us stronger and more competitive.

But 1,400 layoffs? No. Over those eight years, we got from one of those numbers to the other by:

  • 600 involuntary separations. In other words, there were 600 of our colleagues who, through no choice of their own — and no fault of their own — had their positions eliminated.
  • 400 early retirements, buyouts and other voluntary separations. Those people chose to leave.
  • 400 positions eliminated through attrition. Those 400 were not forced out; rather, over time, when they left for their own reasons, they were not replaced.

Why does this matter to us? Because every one of those 1,400 people were our colleagues and our friends, and we worked like crazy to make sure the business decisions we had to make were as humane as we could make them.

Some of us here have been in situations at other companies where the suits from HQ walk in, hand everyone a check and say, “Today’s your last day. See ya.”

Not here. Not us. We treated our colleagues as people – with respect, with generous benefits, and all the help we could give them.

We understand there is political advantage in making people think otherwise, but that doesn’t make it true. So allowing people to make the “inference” (a fine weasel word, that) that we lopped off 1,400 people, dusted off our hands and went on our merry way is factually incorrect, morally dishonest, and wrong.

The other point in the ads, about our capital investment in China – it’s almost too tiresome to drag up again. But here we go:

Yes, our capital investment in China over the past decade is around $200 million. But for a point of comparison, we are spending more than $100 million just on our new, downtown Grand Rapids hotel here in Michigan. And that’s just one project. We aren’t in the habit of publishing our internal financial data – that’s the sort of stuff our competitors would like to know – but it’s a safe bet that our Michigan investments dwarf those in China.

And by the way, that Walsh column? It labeled the Democratic Party chairman’s behavior on the China issue “an overstated bit of political theater,” and counseled, “Don’t expect Sinophobia to ease anytime soon.”

Now, that would be truth in advertising.

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