“This is great news not just for Stillwater and Payne County, but for the state of Oklahoma as a whole. Clearly, Mercury Marine has had a significant and profitable presence in Stillwater for years, but their decision to bring more jobs to Oklahoma is real and tangible evidence that the Right to Work law passed earlier this decade and the lawsuit reform law that is about to go into effect are good for business and good for our state.”—State Sen. Glenn Coffee on Facebook
State Sen. Glenn Coffee, a Republican and leader of the Oklahoma Senate, probably wishes he could take back the above quote lauding Mercury Marine, which recently threatened to relocate its entire operation to Stillwater as it pushed to get concessions from a Wisconsin union.
After some 800 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin eventually voted to accept the concessions, Mercury Marine announced that, in fact, it will start phasing out its Stillwater operation altogether, which will mean a loss of about 400 jobs for the area. Consequently, Coffee’s comments became meaningless.
Initially, the union had voted against accepting the concessions, but once the company announced it was moving all its work to Stillwater, the union was allowed to take another vote. This time the union voted in favor of the wage and benefit concessions.
In his defense, Coffee, pictured right, made the pronouncement after Mercury Marine announced it was moving to Stillwater so he was obviously later blindsided, but his ideological rhetoric now rings hollow. One might even argue that right-to-work actually hurt the state in this instance because it allowed the company to use Oklahoma only as a bargaining tool. The truthful argument, though, is that right-to-work and so-called tort reform had absolutely nothing to do with Mercury Marine’s initial decision or its subsequent reversal of that decision.
Coffee added more:
I thank the management at Mercury Marine for the confidence they’ve shown in this decision, and I can assure them they’ll be delighted with the results. This sends a great message to employers across the nation that Oklahoma is the place to grow their business.
Actually, the opposite became true. The final decision by Mercury Marine shows the nation that businesses can use the threat of relocating to right-to-work, cheap-labor Oklahoma and similar states to get concessions from its workers in other states. This hurts our image on a national level and sends out a bad message.
Mercury Marine, according to media reports, has indicated it plans to pay back investment tax credits granted the company by the state legislature, but the real issue is the loss of jobs here. This is more than an economic impact issue in Stillwater and the state. It’s about real disruption in people’s lives.
The bottom line is the bottom line. Corporations have no fealty to geography. They exist to make money. Meanwhile, the Republican pro-business, anti-union ideology espoused by Coffee remains as intangible as ever here.