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Why I won't be voting for Mitt Romney

In 1989 I accepted a position at Physio Control in Redmond Washington. Physio Control at that time was owned by Eli Lilly Pharmaceuticals. It was a wonderful company to work for. They made the 100 best companies to work for book twice in the years around that time.

Going back in time to 1986 – Denise and I were employed by Keytronics Corporation, a manufacturer of computer keyboards. I was in the injection molding department and Denise was working the spring machine in the assembly area.

  We were living on 10 acres of paradise in Northern Idaho/Eastern Washington. We were living the hippie dream, living on our own property in a house we built, growing what food we could, living without electricity and for 4 years without running water. We were off the grid, living in nature with the trees and animals and whatever Mother Nature threw at us. We had just put in a well for our homestead, a $10,000 investment in an area of extreme poverty. But we had good jobs, or so we thought. Keytronics began to make noises about how we employees needed to step up to the plate or they would have to look for a lower wage area to do business. We were told that they had 1500 applications on file and if we didn’t like how things were going then we knew where the door was.

The gauntlet was thrown down and we took it up. We met every goal/demand that they set for us. We lowered scrap to the number they demanded, we lowered cycle times for the machines, we found ways to do the job cheaper, faster, more efficiently. All was to avail, in June of 1986 they announced that the operations for Newport, Washington would be moved to Taiwan.

 They had an all company meeting where they told us that our jobs were being outsourced to Taiwan because “Those people will work for $0.50 a day and they live on fish heads and rice“. They said that they had talked to the government there and were told this. They also said that if they gave them a new pair of shoes every year as a bonus they the people would be happy and work all that they wanted. We were faced with an immediate decision. They were doing the layoffs in two stages. The first was two weeks after the company meeting. The second would come a month later. Either way the outcome was the same, no job.
 Denise and I had to make one of those life-changing decisions and do it in a hurry. We opted for the first layoff. Knowing that the entire plant was closing down and that 300 + people were going to be looking for work we thought that we would get out there first and take our chances.

 We had no roots in Pend Oreille County and the few jobs there would go to locals who had family there. We packed up Bob our 1954 Chevy flatbed truck in July of 1986 and headed across highway 2 into Western Washington.

 We lived in the truck in campgrounds in Snohomish County and began a search for employment.

 This was the days before cell phones and Personal Computers. Although we registered for unemployment in Everett, Washington, we were struggling in an area where we had no contacts, no relatives, and no advanced prospects.

 Imagine going to a company looking for work and then, if they show interest, you have to tell them: Please call me between 1:00 and 2:00 PM or some such time as agreed upon so that you can be at the campground payphone waiting for their call. If somebody else was using that phone all you could do was wait and hope you didn’t miss your call.

 Eventually Denise got a job as a temporary worker at Intermec Co., a company that made bar code devices. Luck would have it that she was put on an injection molding machine. The first day there she told the boss there “You don’t need me here. You need my husband”. I went in there, gave them my resume and references and was hired as a temporary worker. After a 90 day probationary period I was hired as a permanent employee. We were able to move to a house in Everett and eventually bought a house on 5 acres in Monroe, Washington.

 Intermec was a good company with pretty good benefits and decent management. The trouble for me was that they only had one mold machine. I was a department unto myself and there was nowhere to go for advancement. They had a lot of work that was outsourced to local companies and I tried to bring it in house. I got some work back and proved that I could run it cheaper that the outside molders. However the Purchasing department was apparently getting some kind of kickbacks from the outside suppliers and they sent all the work back out.

 I began looking to see what else was out there.

 One day I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper for a job at Physio Control a local manufacturer of defibrillators. I had never heard of this place but the job sounded interesting and it was something I knew I could do. I applied and to my surprise was given an interview.

 They were starting up a night shift and were looking for someone with injection molding experience to run it. Much to my delight I got the job and bid adieu to Intermec.

 After a couple of weeks on the day shift to learn their machines and methods I embarked on my sojourn at Physio Control.

 I was the floor lead, the process technician, the material handler, scheduler, maintenance tech and general go to guy for the injection molding department, with 5 machines and 7 operators who worked the machines and did sonic welding operations.

 This was my first foray into the world of management and the learning curve was huge. In the beginning I tried to do everything.
 My supervisor on dayshift had really told me very little about the task I was given. The operators I had were all temporary workers with no experience in the job they were doing. I did not know that and thought they were just incompetent at first. After I found out I started out training them as best I could and letting them take over the jobs that they were capable of. It was a matter of survival. I was literally working my ass off before I realized that I had to get them trained or work myself to death.

 It took a year but after that first year we passed the dayshift in every metric. We out produced them even though we shut the machines down for breaks because we had no extra personnel to give breaks. We had very low scrap and met all production goals.

 Here is a little background on Physio Control. They are a company that makes defibrillators for the medical device market. It was a great place to work in the 1980’s and early 1990’s  

 When I was offered the position there my soon to be supervisor Hermilla told me that it was a job for life. They were very selective about whom they hired and most people were turned away. It was a privilege to work there.

 Physio had a lot to offer. The Campus, as they called it, was located on 25 acres in Redmond, Washington. The driveway wound up a tree covered hill to the two buildings situated on the top of the hill. It was the site of a former homestead and farm that they had purchased. When I started working there, there was a herd of Scottish Highlander Cows that the previous owner was pasturing on land behind the main building.

 The main building housed the assembly areas and was also where the engineering departments were located. They had a robot that delivered parts from the warehouse area to the assembly areas. This was the first Robot that I had seen, and up to this point the last.

 There was a full service cafeteria run by Marriott’s that served a full breakfast and lunch menu. Because I was on night shift I seldom got to take advantage of that. They also had a full fitness center with trainers that the employees could use for around $5.00 a month.   The building I worked in was building 2 and housed the Molding Department, the Patch Department and most of the office areas for R & D and upper management. There was also a full service Credit department located in this building. It’s where I got the loan for my first Harley Davidson. What a nice convenience for employees to be able to conduct their banking at work. This was the days before direct deposit.

 Every third month there was a company wide kick-off meeting for the quarter we were about to begin. We were told about the company’s performance in the previous quarter and were given the goals for the upcoming quarter. These were high tech presentations with slide show presentations and music and speeches. This was also a time when employees were recognized for contributions they had made to the companies success. They had a thing called a spark plug award that was given out to employees who had provided a “Spark” to the company. They were an actual spark plug encased in cast acrylic and came with a certificate. The employee was recognized before the entire company. It could be a little embarrassing but what a morale boost it gave the recipient and the entire staff.

 I didn’t really appreciate some of it at the time, but they really held the employees in great esteem. I have never before or since worked for a company that treated their employees so much like they were a valued part of the company.

 There were little events through out the year that were a tradition with this company. Once a year they had a breakfast that was cooked by the management. They set up grills on the loading docks and all the upper management team including the  CEO served the rest of the employees.

 We worked a four day work week for most of the year. In the molding department we worked two ten hour shifts and shut down for four hours each day. Even now there are far too few companies that work a four day work week.

 The fourth quarter was our busy time and we worked a lot of overtime leading up to the year’s end. It was very handy for us hourly employees that got overtime pay. We put in long hours but the checks were nice and just in time for Christmas. The always had daily production goals for units produced and during this time as we met the goals they would announce them over the PA system. As we met or surpassed each goal there were teams that would go from department to department handing out goodies for us.

 I could go on and on but suffice to say it was a great work environment. With better than average wages, good benefits including a pension plan, it was a good, good job.

 But all good things come to an end.

 The end came from the FDA and managements refusal to take them seriously. FDA inspects medical device makers once a year to check for compliance to GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). Physio Control had a big problem with documentation. The FDA inspector found the same basic documentation errors for 7 years in a row. No corrections, no serious attempt to address them. He made noise, there were also numerous lawsuits stemming from families of people who had died while being resuscitated. Not surprising for a company that makes lifesaving equipment, some people will not accept that even with the best equipment sometime death still occurs.

 Physio Control voluntarily suspended operations to fix their documents and get back in compliance with GMP. Under the consent decree Physio Control was not allowed to ship new product until they got their documentation in order. The only product allowed to be produced was service support.

 It took longer than was anticipated by management. It took more than one year. During that time no one was laid off. All employees were retained and given some tasks to keep them busy.

 I spent the entire year typing processes, procedures and guidelines for the injection molding department. I put together hundreds of documents.

  There were occasions when we would run service parts but other than that we were only allow to work on documentation. At the end of the year we passed inspection and were allowed to reopen for business. The company was battered but we had pulled through the shut down with no one laid off and the company was still solvent. They had somewhere in the neighborhood of 260 million dollars banked at the beginning of the shut down.

 It was shortly after that shutdown however that Eli Lilly announced that they were divesting themselves of the medical device companies that they owned. Physio Control was put on the market and was subsequently purchased by Mitt Romney and Bain Investments.

 This was the first time that I had heard of Bain and Mitt Romney and investment companies that buy up business’s in order to “Fix them up” and turn them for a profit.

 Bain basically were given Physio Control, I think they paid something around 23 or 24 million for a business that had been turning over more than 200 million in sales each year.

 They proceeded to strip the company and make it appear more profitable for the next buyer.

 One of the first things that Bain did upon taking over was to announce that all employees with a certain number of points would be offered retirement. We had an 80 point pension plan. Your age plus years of service after a minimum of 5 years service was eligible for full retirement e.g. your age 50 + years of service 30 = retirement. Those that did not accept this would face layoff with no compensation. Now the retirement was good but was intended to be just one facet of your retirement. They also had a 401k plan, so with the 401k and the 80 point plan and Social Security you could expect to be comfortable in retirement. Those that were forced into early retirement were for the most part not happy with it. They still had a ways to go before they could stop working.

The direct effect they had on my department was to close it down. We were told that Physio Control was returning to its core competencies and that molding wasn’t one of them.

 The put all molding jobs out for bid to private companies and when they got an acceptable bid they sold off all the molding equipment and outsourced all the molding.

 I spent my last three months of employment with them traveling to Coeur D'Alene Idaho to train other people how to do my job. The company that got the contract with Physio Control was back in Northern Idaho where I had left from 10 years earlier. Still a economically depressed area with low wage jobs. I was offered a job with this company, at considerably less than my wages with Physio Control. I declined the offer, and looked elsewhere.

 Snohomish County in Washington had a very small number injection molding companies and after trying all of them for work and finding that none were hiring, I expanded my search.

 I was making more money than Denise so when I got a job offer in Colorado we decided to make the move. She had a good job in Washington, with people that she liked, so it was a sacrifice on her part. Our son made the initial move with us but within 6 months returned to Washington when he had grown up and where his friends and future wife lived.

 Bottom line is that Mitt Romney walked off with a huge pile of money to take back to his family. A lot of other people had their dreams shattered and their lives disrupted. Altogether somewhere around 120 people lost their jobs at Physio Control either through direct layoff or forced retirement. I don’t remember the number of total employees there in Redmond but I think it was around 360. In other words about one third of the workforce was gone.

  I had to move 1700 miles away from my son, who still lives there with his wife and three children. My wife gave up her good job and we both gave up the house and home that we had built there in Washington. In my opinion Physio Control did not become a better and stronger company, it was only dressed up for sale to another owner.

 Fortunately I was able to find employment in Colorado that lasted for 9 years. After surviving one plant closing in Castle Rock, Colorado I stayed with the company and worked in Colorado Springs until I was again laid off and took a job in Kansas. That company was bought by a Norwegian Company that laid off everyone and moved the molding to Mexico where I now work. But that is another story…………….

Some notes:

Medtronic bought Physio Control in 1998 for $538 million in stock and assumed debt.

 In a strange twist Medtronic Inc. has sold its troubled Physio-Control division to Bain Capital for $487 million, the deal was finalized in the first quarter of 2012.

Originally posted to Chobuck in Adventureland on Sat Jul 14, 2012 at 02:26 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Bain Files.

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