CAT's global machinery sales fell 27 percent in February, the third straight month of declines as the economic downturn eroded demand for heavy equipment. In an effort to align sales and production with plummeting demand, CAT notified an additional 2,454 workers in three states that they were losing their jobs. CAT was already feeling the cash squeeze.
A line worker at NUE's plant in Darlington, S.C. sent John J. Ferriola, the company's chief operating officer, a note that simply said "Thank you for caring about me and my family." NUE's top management have received hundreds of similar cards and e-mails from their staff of 22,000. If you think this is different and somewhat odd, it is for other companies, but not NUE.
NUE is one of the few remaining steel companies in the U.S. to remain competitive in its industry. It has streamlined and decentralized its management. There are only four layers of management. Senior executives do not have company cars, dining rooms, executive parking spaces or corporate jets. Everyone from the janitors to the CEO has the same basic but generous benefits plan. NUE’s employee relations philosophy is simple and effective:
- Employees should have the opportunity to earn according their productivity.
- If employees do their job well today, they should have a job tomorrow.
- Employees have a right to be treated fairly. The company listens to employees through crew meetings, department meetings, shop dinners and employee surveys.
- Employees must have an avenue of appeal if they believe they have been treated unfairly. This complaint procedure allows employees to carry their complaints to the President of the company.
As a result of the downturn, NUE is keeping employees busy rewriting safety manuals, looking for cost savings, and getting ahead on maintenance. Work that used to be done by contractors, such as making special parts, mowing the lawns, and even cleaning the bathrooms, is now handled by NUE staff. Cleaning the bathrooms was an employee suggestion.
You can’t beat the herd by following the herd. For better or worse, NUE has chosen the high-road with its employees. I suspect NUE is equally thoughtful toward its shareholders. Last month I sold CAT, but I am still proud to be a NUE shareholder.
Full Disclosure: Long NUE
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