Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

April 12, 2012

Corporate greed had nothing to do with their leaving

In response to letters on why Cumberland lost many of its manufacturing jobs:

I worked at the Queen City Brewery as a salesman from 1962-1969 and was sales manager from 1965–1969. The reason both breweries closed was not because of greedy or selfish ownership, but basic economic reasons:

(1) Decline of volume due to the increase in national brands volume brought on by the advent of TV advertising, which Western Maryland did not have until PVTV cable became available. (2) Pricing pressure from national brands that were sold at local brand prices, such as Bud, Schlitz and Pabst selling 10-ounce cans at local beer prices and consumers did not have to pay more to get what they were seeing on TV.

When our retailers began receiving more expensive point of sale advertising materials such as, clocks and neons from national brands we did not have the finances to compete.

Big breweries also came in with several new packages which we did not have capacity to produce. All regional/local breweries in the country had the same problem and nearly all of them closed.

To keep our employees working as long as possible we began selling our beer under 21 different private labels to major chain accounts like 7-11, Wynn-Dixie/Quick Check and others.

These brands did not produce a profit and we sold them cheap just to keep three shifts working. As far as misinformed union men who claimed they closed due to greed, I would say the owners and management of both breweries were the most honorable, decent and generous people in Cumberland who made terrific sacrifices to keep their people working.

Carl White at Cumberland Brewery; Bill Wilson, Arch Hutchinson, L.N. Duncan and Brooke Fradiska at Queen City were some of the finest people I have known.

I recently retired after 47 years in management within the malt beverage industry and worked in 11 states. The only small breweries now operating had closed in the 1970s and reopened as very small craft breweries. Unions had nothing to do with closing breweries and neither did corporate greed.

Prior to joining the brewing industry I was one of the first hired in 1957 at PPG. It failed to survive because of our nation’s imbalance of trade. Even though we had the most modern glass plant in the world, it was possible to ship plate glass from Australia and England to Cumberland cheaper than we could make it.

Our government created that problem with low import taxes. Beside our inability to compete with foreign glass producers, our union wanted more, even to the point that we went on strike for 3 1/2 months for what we thought was more money even though we would have had to work strike free for 20 years to make enough from the increase in salaries to cover what we lost in wages while on strike.

We also did not understand the true reason for the strike because the union wanted company-wide seniority and our local was not told. Had the union got company-wide seniority, we would have all lost our jobs because other plants near Pittsburgh had many workers laid off.

We were in effect striking to lose our jobs.

The only company I feel left Cumberland because of union demands was the Celanese. The strikes and riots of the early 1940s was much of the reason it went to a more work-friendly state like South Carolina.

Before you argue the plus or negative aspects of unions vs. corporate management in a public forum, please get the facts and don’t generalize without knowing the dynamics of what large companies have to deal with.

Bob Leasure

Abingdon, Va.

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