I was at the Harrison School Board meeting on Tuesday when I first heard the news about Flexsteel closing. It was, to say the least, a surprise.
I hadn’t heard anything about the company. I thought at first it was just some kind of terrible rumor being spread on social media.
The board meeting, or at least the part I stayed for, was about two hours and I didn’t have a lot of time to work on the story that night. But when I got up Wednesday morning, I started checking it out.
As you may have seen in the Thursday paper, the closure came during a time when the company is going through a major “restructuring” effort. The company had announced that change in direction in mid-May, exiting some aspects of the business that had been the major portion, especially in Harrison.
The CEO said cutting the workforce was going to be a difficult thing to do, but it had to do something to remain competitive in a changing marketplace.
As I read those wire reports, I started thinking about the strike at Claridge back in 1996.
It was a warm evening that Dec. 10 when I got a call at home about 8 p.m. from the late J.E. Dunlap telling me the union workers had refused to accept the newly-offered contract and decided to strike instead. I went to the entrance of the extrusions plant on Industrial Park Road and found men standing around waving at passing traffic and holding signs declaring the strike.
I think I was the first member of the media to hear one of those employees standing on the picket line say, “No comment.” That lasted for the vast majority of the strike.
But what didn’t last was the warm weather. It turned out to be a very tough winter. If you were around at the time, you probably remember the sight of those employees — they were commonly referred to as “strikers” throughout the community — standing beside the highway. They had those big kerosene heaters often used in orchards to keep fruit trees from freezing in abnormally-cold weather. They huddled around those heaters, or smudge pots, trying to keep warm on the snow-covered landscape as they stood their ground.
It was a terrible time. Most people in the community had opinions they expressed loudly whether or not they were based in fact. It drove wedges between people that exist to this day, probably more so than even the Title IX lawsuit the Harrison School District was involved in a couple of years later.
But it was mainly a terrible time for those employees. The union helped as much as possible, but it wasn’t enough. The strike ended after about 115 days when workers accepted a contract much like the one they refused in 1996.
Now, some of those workers moved on and have different jobs, ones they probably wouldn’t have without the strike.
In the Flexsteel case, city officials have pledged to help the 110 or so employees who will be displaced in August as a result of the company’s closure.
I hope against hope that they will all be able to have new jobs before the August deadline hits.
Good luck to you all.
James L. White is associate editor of the Harrison Daily Times. Contact him at email@example.com or (870) 743-0608.