Just the facts - Down and dirty

February 11, 2009
By: Vicki Bell

As I began this post, I had no idea what the title would be. I wanted something positive and, if not positive, at least not negative. How do you put the best possible spin on rotten news? Perhaps I should ask government officials or financial CEOs, who have a lot of experience laundering facts until they come out as bright as possible.

A self-proclaimed Pollyanna who always looks for the bright side, I struggled to find something positive in the results (so far) of yesterday's "Fabricating Update" employment survey. I guess I"ll have to settle for the news that almost 40 percent of respondents work for companies that have not laid off workers. That doesn't mean that it's work as usual for employees at these companies, and you know what's happening where the other 60 percent work. Here are the Clorox®-free facts—and some opinions—from metalworkers. I hope those fighting on Capitol Hill take notice.

Yesterday's "Fabricating Update" e-newsletter reported that manufacturing lost 207,000 jobs in January. Losses were especially large in fabricated metal products (-37,000), motor vehicles and parts (-31,000), and machinery (-22,000). The newsletter then asked subscribers—metal fabricators—to choose from one of four statements to describe the employment situation where they worked:

In the last six months, my company &

  • Has laid off workers

  • Has not laid off workers

  • Has not laid off workers, but has implemented a hiring freeze

  • Has been looking for skilled workers and is hiring

Almost 61 percent (60.9) responded that in this time frame, their companies have laid off workers.

A subscriber who works for a major steel producer that is building a new $2.8 million plant in a Southern state wrote that the company had laid off 40 percent of its hourly workers and 30 percent of salaried workers at two of its forging facilities.

A subscriber from a company that serves the construction industry wrote that the company has laid off workers and "short-term layoffs will continue for the foreseeable future with more permanent cuts planned by the end of the month." Another from a company also tied to the construction industry wrote that 20 percent of the work force has been cut and "if new work is not booked soon, we will have to lay off more."

A company that manufactures motorcycle products has laid off 25 employees since November 2008.

One automotive supplier has been forced to lay off 30 percent of its work force in the last two months and plans to implement one- to two-week work furloughs.

In October, a laser cutting job shop laid off nine of its 24 workers. Since then, three have been called back, but the company doesn't plan to call the others back anytime soon.

A metal stamping company has had to cut its direct labor workers by half in 2009.

A company that specializes in automation products has had to cut more than 400 workers so far, and a company that produces stamping dies has laid off 83 out of 90 workers. Another subscriber from the tool and die industry wrote, "Our company has laid off workers and about one-third of the [remaining] work force is at 20 hours per week. The worst I've seen it in 33 years in tool and die."

Not all respondents reported layoffs. Slightly over 14 percent said their companies had no layoffs over the past six months; 14.5 percent said there had been no layoffs, but hiring had been frozen. At many of these companies, workers' employment conditions have been altered to reflect the down economy.

A subscriber from a company that manufactures food processing equipment wrote that while there were no layoffs, "every single [hourly] employee has had his hours cut by 18 percent. Salaried workers have had their salaries cut by 18 percent. [It] will be worse if there is no turnaround soon."

A company that manufactures vacuum pumps hasn't laid workers off, but has been forced to reduce wages and shop hours by 20 percent. An automotive supplier with no layoffs is shifting to a 4-day work week for hourly and salaried staff and cutting salaries by 10 percent across the board.

Had your fill of depressing news? Want to read something more positive? Almost 10 percent (9.8) of respondents' companies have been looking for skilled workers over the past six months and are hiring. One subscriber in this category wrote, "I am opening up a new steel processing facility in Houston, Texas, [which will need workers]."

Among the others that are hiring are a Kansas-based supplier of agriculture equipment; a Texas company that provides electrical safety products; a company in Connecticut that produces metal stampings, springs, and wire forms; a shipbuilder in the Northwest; a structural steel fabricator in California; a global company in the solar energy sector; an Ohio-based company that builds boiler cleaning and soot blowing systems; fabricating companies based in Kentucky, Ohio, Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma; a California-based supplier of precision sheet metal, machined, and welded assemblies; a builder of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers for the Navy; a 119-year-old company that supplies products for the bridge and highway industry; an Iowa-based manufacturer of agricultural sprayers; a Connecticut-based supplier of products and services to the aerospace industry; a Rhode Island company that manufactures flow metering systems; and an Arkansas mower manufacturer.

There you have it—the current state of employment in metal manufacturing as reported by "Fabricating Update" subscribers. I wish the percentages of those laying off employees and those hiring were reversed. Check back this time next year to see if conditions have improved.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209