None of us knew what to expect that April morning in 1976. The United Auto Workers (UAW) and their new Grayling Local 1903 had just announced a labor strike against Bear Archery. In an attempt to limit the number of vehicles crossing the picket line that first morning, we had been asked to form car pools.
So at 6:30 a.m. I jumped into my Chevy Blazer at our small modular home on Old Dam Road, swung around the corner in our Sherwood Forest development and picked up Phyllis Thompson at her house and Gretta Chapp who met us there. We continued along Old Dam Road and stopped to pick up my assistant, Bill “Apple” McIntosh, at his log cabin and then headed for the plant. On the way we also stopped and picked up Pat Wiseman at her mobile home and drove the couple of blocks toward the plant on the edge of town. All of us worked together in the Bear Archery annex known as “The Swamp.” We all jointly ran the Bear Archery in-house advertising agency.
We were there early ahead of the workers, due to the fact that we needed to set up our photography and video equipment to document the first day’s picket line crossing for possible use in court, as we would do every day for the remainder of the long strike. There were a number of driveways into the Bear Archery plant, but we had our security people block them all off. That left just the one open gate next to our office for the strikers to congregate. This allowed us to better record the happenings. We could also have one of our plant security guards there next to the picket line during critical times.
When we arrived that April morning, we encountered about 100 strikers who were all worked up and excited about their first day on the picket line. Some banged on our vehicle and screamed at us as we slowly made our way across the picket line. They had not yet thought of surreptitiously dropping nails in the driveway as they would later throughout the strike, both here at the plant and at many of our homes. For now, most of them were just learning to be angry strikers. Up until that time they had just been our fellow co-workers, friends and neighbors-people with whom we lunched, laughed and joked most every day. Some of them were hunting and fishing companions of ours. They were like family.
Thankfully that first Monday morning we still had 109 of our regular employees show up for work, Tuesday saw 117 cross the picket line, 122 on Wednesday and 124 on Thursday. They had chosen not to strike with the others. We had earlier made a management decision to schedule our production from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. four days a week to limit the number of times our employees would have to cross the picket line. This enabled our working employees to still get their 40 hours in each week and a long three-day weekend to rest and recuperate from the stress of working under strike conditions.
One thing that was very important for Bear Archery to prove those first few days of the strike was that we could continue to build and ship our archery products without missing a beat. And, since violent strikers might try to prevent that, I was asked to ride along with my camera when that first shipment was sent across the picket line. Jim Hatfield, the receiving department supervisor, and I took that first load of new product boxes out of the plant, across the angry picket line and out to the edge of town where we met an 18-wheel trucker who was brave enough to get involved. We fully expected to be followed and perhaps even jumped, but nothing like that occurred. I think it might have been a case where we caught the strikers unaware and they really didn’t realize what we were doing until we had disappeared around the corner. But I wasn’t too worried. Jim was an ex-Marine! And his brother was the county sheriff!
When the strike was imminent, Bob Kelly set up a six-person strike committee from among management. We would meet first thing each morning to discuss the previous night’s mischief and damage that the strikers had done, the threats that had been made, and make other plans for the coming day and week. Of course, we’d meet more often than that in emergency situations. Members of that strike committee were: Bob Kelly, executive vice president; Bill Annin, vice president of manufacturing; Bill Granlund, general foreman; Gus Kihlstrand, personnel director; Ben Apps, controller; and me, the public information officer. In addition, we had three “outside” consultants who attended some of our meetings to advise us, often at meetings away from the plant. They were Doug Dahn, a Detroit attorney, Neil McCormick, a labor consultant, and Bert Lawrenz, our Victor corporate personnel director.
ORGANIZED LABOR SEEKS FOOTHOLD
The 1970’s were not the first time that organized labor had tried to invade the Bear Archery plant in Grayling. In April 1960, union organizers of the International Woodworkers, AFL-CIO, started contacting Bear employees about becoming affiliated with their group. They convinced about one-third of the employees to sign a petition to hold an election. Under the watchful eye of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) an election was held on Friday afternoon, June 10, in the glass arrow department of the plant. This timing permitted the departing day shift and incoming night shift to vote.
When all the votes were counted, the NLRB and union were surprised that the union organizers lost by a vote of 153 to 42. Many of the people who signed the original petition thought better of it by the time they cast their secret ballots and voted against the idea.
Later, when the UAW approached our production workers, the Bear Archery Employees Association (BAEA) was representing the workers. Bear management had signed an agreement on Dec. 4, 1969, with this internal group. On Jan. 14, 1970, Fred Bear had talked to the employees face-to-face telling them why they had not gotten a Christmas bonus due to the financial condition of the company. He followed that up in writing to them all the next day. It is a lengthy letter with Fred’s writing style and fingerprints all over it, so I know he must have written most of it. Here are just a few highlights:
TO ALL EMPLOYEES:
When I spoke to you before Christmas I had no good news since there were no profits for the year 1969 and, therefore, no bonus. Most of you took this announcement in stride, remembering the warning in my talk to you in July. Others, however, reacted with grumbling and with anonymous notes on bulletin boards to the effect that I had lied to you concerning the profit picture for ’69, and that “Santa Claus was dead.”
Painful as it is, I must remind you that Santa Claus does not bring the bonus, it is a share of profits. We had no profit last year. We lost money.
Fred then went on to list the reasons why Bear failed to show a profit for the year, saying there were three major reasons-an inability to raise prices; improper sales forecasting to the new mass merchant market Bear had just entered; and, third, poor morale of our company. Here’s how he tackled that one:
We are not a close-knit group as we once were, working in harmony for the mutual benefit of all. Management can only do so much. They can benefit from mistakes and forecast more accurately. Sales can be improved and costs cut. Improvements can be made in design, engineering and in providing tools to save labor costs … but management cannot work miracles. A great burden rests also on you people at the machines. We need more cooperation and harmony between all levels of the business to be as successful as we have every right to be. I want to ask your help in knitting us more closely together, all working for the same goal and participating in rewards.
The Christmas bonus has not been a gift from Santa Claus. It has been a share of the profits resulting from the efforts of all of us TOGETHER … On the brighter side, we are making progress in improved relations amongst us. The first step is the Employee’s Association that we signed December 4. Sincere and sensible negotiations are beginning to show fruit, along with this means for better understanding between all of us. I firmly believe that if we had this contact with you a year ago there would have been a bonus last month.
Fred then went over the economics of living and operating in the isolated community of Grayling, and here’s how he closed out his letter:
My aim is to make this company the greatest in the business. My concern is to do everything I can to make sure that there will be jobs for all of us, at the best possible wages, under the best possible working conditions. I cannot do it alone, but working together-the sky is the limit.
Without this cooperation and without every individual resolving to deliver an inspired and honest day’s work, it is not inconceivable that one day this building could sit here abandoned, with broken windows, a disgrace to the community. It could be a monument to the fact that free people, under a free enterprise system, could not collectively muster the initiative to rise above day-to-day problems and work together for a common cause.
Sincerely, Fred Bear
Sadly, Fred’s prediction came true when we had to move our operation to Florida in 1978.
TOO BIG, TOO FAST
A year-and-a-half prior to the UAW strike, management had returned to Grayling from our large national sporting goods dealer trade show with a ton of orders for our new products, primarily the all-new compound bows. Bob Kelly was not yet running the company; he was the vice president of marketing at that time. The fellow in charge overreacted to all the orders and immediately put out the word to our personnel manager, Bob Gallandt, to increase our work force from about 300 people to 700!
Naturally, when word got out “down below” many people headed north to our pristine area to seek work. In order to quickly staff up to that level, Gallandt had to hire groups of friends who applied together, as well as families who came up. And many of them had been UAW members. You can probably read the writing on the wall. They immediately started talking up the benefits of belonging to the UAW and stirred up our existing employees. And when it later became necessary to cut back that huge work force, the situation was exacerbated.
Added to that is the tension that always exists among a large work force, when slights are exaggerated and grievances not always settled in the injured party’s favor. Gallandt told me recently, not long before he died, that personnel problems are really magnified when one person in a family group is unhappy about something, it quickly affects all of the working members of that family and their friends. Just as I was finishing this chapter up, we lost Bob Gallandt to cancer. He was a good guy.
One of the department supervisors at the time also told me recently that the officers of the Bear Archery Employees Association approached the UAW about affiliating with them without even telling the rest of the employees they were doing so. Reportedly, when our employees returned from lunch one day there were notices all over the bulletin boards in the plant that there was going to be a vote that night on the idea. No discussion, just show up and vote. I have no reason to doubt that scenario.
“In September of 1974, the BAEA held a meeting and voted to affiliate with the UAW. After receiving complaints from some of our employees that the election was not held according to the by-laws of the BAEA,” Bob Kelly wrote to the Grayling Business Community on December 11, “Bear Archery challenged the results of this election. The National Labor Relations Board assigned one of its people to deal with this challenge. Depositions were taken from management people and our employees regarding how this vote was conducted.”
The vote to affiliate with the UAW was 329-67 in favor of the UAW.
COMPANY VS. EMPLOYEES IN COURT
When the company refused to accept the results of this vote, the UAW appealed to the NLRB. The first NLRB examiner’s decision went against the company, and upon appeal to the full NLRB in Washington a 2-to-1 opinion was brought against the company. However, based on the ruling by the one dissenting NLRB examiner, Peter D. Walther, who took the same position the company had taken all along, the company again appealed the decision on the employee vote. Here’s what NLRB examiner Walther wrote about the vote in question in his opinion:
1. The minimal standards of due process were not met by the circumstances surrounding the affiliation vote.
2. Bargaining unit employees were not given the opportunity to collectively discuss and consider the question of affiliation. Nor was there a “special membership meeting” as had been announced.
3. The voters were presented with only one side of the affiliation issue. Such an unbalanced presentation followed immediately by the voting surely had ‘an unwholesome and unsettling’ effect and tended to interfere with the sober and thoughtful choice which a free election is designed to reflect. The vote was not in reality secret. Clearly the balloting procedure does not meet the requirements of a secret ballot.
4. In my view, the procedure followed here could only have had a stifling effect on any employee inclined to oppose affiliation.
In view of this strong dissenting opinion that totally supported the company’s view that our employees had been steamrollered into voting for the UAW, the NLRB decision was again appealed.
Almost a year to the day from the time that our appeal was filed, the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled in the company’s favor, and the only recourse then left to the strikers was to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which they did not do. It ended a 13-month labor dispute between Bear Archery and the new UAW Local 1903. But the angry picketing did not end with this court ruling. It continued until the last day the factory and offices were open in Grayling later that year around Thanksgiving.