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GR Press business editor gloats over Bissell CEO

February 1, 2010

The business editor for the Grand Rapids Press, Nancy Crawley, wrote what was essentially and promotional piece for business owner Mark Bissell in her weekly Sunday column.

The editorial salutes Bissell Inc.’s decision to not leave Michigan during tough economic times and the company’s creativity in creating new jobs with what Crawley calls “knowledge workers.”

In her editorial Crawley states, “Bissell Inc. shed hundreds of factory workers when its production moved offshore, but now employs 350 knowledge workers to push the innovation envelope.” It is interesting that Crawley chose to use the word shed as opposed to being more up front and say that the company fired hundreds of workers.

A few paragraphs later Crawley does acknowledge that workers were fired, but she frames it in neo-liberal terms of the company’s need to remain competitive. “The fourth-generation of his family to lead the business, Bissell faced a critical decision five years ago. To keep the price of his carpet cleaners and sweepers low enough to compete, he had to move the remainder of his U.S. manufacturing to Mexico and fire 200 loyal workers.”

Crawley then quotes Bissell CEO, Mark Bissell, who says, “For us, the question was how do we in Michigan leverage the global economy and not hide from it.” Bissell also uses neo-liberal language, which is code for how can we find cheap labor in the global economy.

However, Bissell turned right around and hired hundreds of engineers, industrial designers, market researchers and data analysts. These are the “knowledge workers” that Crawley was referring to in her column. Since Bissell has hired the “knowledge workers” the company has moved from number 2 in sales amongst vacuum cleaner companies to number 1.

Crawley goes on to say that the company has invested $9 million dollars in its new Innovation Center on Walker Avenue. The new center has almost as many workers as they did when vacuum cleaners were actually being manufactured here.

This all begs the question, if Bissell can invest $9 million in a new building and hire hundreds of “knowledge workers,” why couldn’t they just keep the hundreds of manufacturing workers who actually made the product and not just talked about it? Crawley’s column does not provide readers with any comparisons to what the former wage workers made assembling vacuum cleaners as opposed to what the knowledge workers make, but it is safe to assume that the knowledge workers make equally as much as the former workers if not more.

We also don’t know where the knowledge workers are coming from. Were they all living in Michigan before being hired by Bissell or were they recruited from out of state? The former Bissell assembly workers were certainly Michigan residents, so how does this kind of treatment of local workers fit into Crawley’s notion that the company is a “model for succeeding in Michigan.”

Lastly, Crawley’s column also doesn’t address the fact that Bissell recently fired 70 workers in Chicago at a warehouse because the workers were trying to organize a union and had filed some complaints against the company with the state. It seems that Bissell is more interested in people to think about their products than those who actually make or transport what workers in Mexico make for the company.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 3:09 am

    The Grand Rapids IWW is coordinating actions locally in solidarity with the wrongfully fired Chicago workers. Mark Bissell lives in Grand Rapids and we intend on putting the heat on him. Anyone interested in joining our solidarity campaign contact us at griww@iww.org.

  2. January 24, 2011 11:59 pm

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  3. August 23, 2011 5:01 am

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