AKRON CONFERENCE Brainard workers offer advice on plant ownership
Profit-sharing checks inspire workers at an employee-owned Girard plant to watch out for waste.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
AKRON -- Two employees who helped stage a worker buyout of Brainard Rivet in Girard four years ago got the chance to share their success story with other would-be employee owners at a state conference here Friday.
John Chetsko, plant engineer, and Jeff Chine, plant manager, were among the panelists featured in the 16th Annual Employee Ownership Conference sponsored by the Ohio Employee Ownership Center at Kent State University. More than 300 attended the event at the Akron Hilton West.
The Brainard Rivet spokesmen shared the stage with Mick Brown and Roy Campbell, employees at Harvard Industries Trim Trends Division in Bryan, Ohio, who are investigating the viability of an employee buyout for their plant.
They said the plant's parent company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the third time in 10 years and the plant is scheduled to be sold at auction next month.
Harry Kokkinis, a New York consultant working with the Trim Trends employee group, said they're uncertain whether the Bryan plant will be bought. They see the worker buyout plan as a "plan B" to use in case the sale doesn't happen.
"You'll need more than a plan A and a plan B. We got all the way up to plan N!," warned Chetsko. "The roller coaster ride is something else. It's going to be big, big ups and big, big downs."
Brainard's saga: He said Brainard Rivet was making rivets for the auto, furniture and railroad industries and had profits of $2 million a year when its former owner, Rhode Island-based Textron Inc., decided to relocate production to a Virginia plant. It moved the machinery out and closed in May 1997, leaving 68 people jobless.
Chetsko and Chine said Brainard employees were fortunate to find another employee-owned company, Fastener Industries in Berea, which agreed to buy the plant as a wholly owned subsidiary.
Brainard employees pitched in some of their own money to pay for a feasibility study, between $250 and $500 a piece, on average, but that was their only monetary contribution. Some employee buyouts require workers to contribute their own funds or to borrow money to help finance the deal, they said.
Turnaround: The rivet plant now employs 32 and has been profitable for two consecutive years. Employees took a pay cut of between 20 percent and 30 percent with the buyout, Chine said, but they receive shares of stock each year and profit-sharing checks when the company does well.
"There's a whole different attitude," Chetsko said. "They watch what they use."
Chine said one worker rigged up a device for recycling oil that leaks from machinery, and the invention is saving hundreds of dollars. Another complained about using too much paper to list worker schedules.
Foremen positions have been abolished in the worker-owned plant, so purchasing is done by the workers in each department. "Believe me, they really shop around," Chine said.