THINK ABOUT IT … YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF
Brought To You As A Community Service By Bear Archery
After this ad appeared in the local paper, our radio station in town, WGRY, received a call on the air from someone who identified herself as a striker. We were almost positive we knew which striker she was. Here’s what she said over the air, directed at me: “Strong-arm tactics haven’t even begun yet; he hasn’t seen anything, if you read about other strikes there’s been cars burnt, there’s been houses burnt, there’s been people beat up and nothing’s happened …”
At the time we had all of this kind of thing on tape just in case a sudden fire hit one of our houses or vehicles. She could easily have been identified by a voiceprint.
About a week later, I was called to the Fred Bear Museum out at Bear Mountain to photograph the strikers. They were harassing museum visitors. I advised Frank Scott, the museum director, to call our local attorney, and he and the sheriff came out to witness the activity.
The next day I was again called out to the museum for the same reason. That day I stayed with Frank Scott until closing time at 6 p.m. in case of violence.
Needless to say, all of this hurt Fred very deeply. They had taken their strike away from the plant and corporate management, and were now attacking Fred and for which he stood. And this all occurred on the Memorial Day weekend. Six weeks later, the Fred Bear Museum was shot at 19 times by a pellet gun causing $1,300 damage to its entry windows and doors. During the strike the windows in my own office in “The Swamp” were shot out about a half-a-dozen times, usually with heavy bolts, and the front of our small office was spray-painted with the words “City Hall.”
FRED STATES HIS FEELINGS
Fred put together a letter addressing some of the facts in the case, but to the best of my knowledge we never sent it out upon the advice of our attorneys. Here is the letter Fred pecked out on his typewriter. You can read between the lines and see how deeply he was hurt by this strike:
Our business began in Detroit in 1933. The plant was moved to Grayling in 1947 because I wanted to live here. During those early years I worked long hours, missed some meals, and lived in a tent for two long summers. Business problems began to be resolved by 1955. Sales were good, profits were fair and bonuses were paid. We had a real happy family.
In 1961 we lost $180,000 due to failure of some bows that were defective and had to be replaced. We were in a precarious position. Banks ceased extending operating funds. To keep the business going I borrowed from my friends and secured help from a private loan company at an interest rate of 13 percent. This at a time when rates were normally 6 percent. My home, furnishings and automobile were part of the collateral.
I hired a new plant manager. He laid off one third of the workers, and we were amazed to learn, in two months, that we were turning out more production with this smaller work group. This plant manager left for a bigger job two years later. Up until 20 months ago when Bob Kelly became executive vice president we went through three managers.
It was during this time that another crisis developed. Again, a reorganization brought about a reduction of employee numbers and a significant increase in production.
We find ourselves in another similar situation at this time. Many of our former employees went on strike in late April and are still picketing. We hired new people and now find that July was our biggest month ever with less than 200 workers, as opposed to over 300 before the strike.
I am president of the Bear Archery Company. Bob Kelly is my right-hand man. He is chief executive officer. Normally only major decisions come to my attention. Our strike situation is a major problem. I back Kelly all of the way.
Victor Comptometer Corporation, which has owned Bear Archery since late 1967 is not taking part in the efforts of the UAW to organize our operation here. An attempt was made a few weeks ago by one of the strikers to have Victor become involved in this dispute. Being an owner of a few shares of Victor stock, he phoned Victor’s chief executive officer to point out that he should investigate our methods of handling the strike.
Those of us here who are running Bear Archery are being guided by what we think are the best methods of keeping the company here in Grayling. Our costs here are much higher than the costs of any of our competitors. Our selling prices are higher, but we have been able to continue to sell our products because we make a better product.
We can continue to pay higher wages, but all of our employees must earn their wages. We cannot tolerate a situation where many less workers can produce more products. Just recently we lost several large accounts because our prices were too high.
I like Grayling. I hope to continue to live here. – Fred Bear
A DIFFERENT LIFE
It is important to remember that while all of this was going on we still had a company to run and I still had an in-house advertising agency and the Fred Bear Sports Club to run. Fred and I made a number of trips out of town that summer. Just four days after the six tires were slashed on my Blazer and my old VW in our driveway at home, Fred and I flew out to Snowmass, Colorado to attend the annual Outdoor Writer’s Association of America meeting to help promote our sport and industry. He and I were both members of that OWAA group at the time. I even asked a friend from Ft. Wayne to come up and stay with my family while I was gone. An ex-Marine, I might add, who had spent a lot of time on the battlefields of Vietnam. I was taking no chances with my family’s safety. This was in late June.
Then in August Fred and I flew into New York City and met with the Doubleday people on his new “Field Notes” book. He and I spent several days there holed-up in a nearby hotel just off 5th Avenue proofreading the book and meeting with his editor, Ferris Mack.
Fred and I also greatly curtailed our flyfishing in the evenings that summer. Matter of fact, I only went flyfishing one night all year because I did not want to leave my family alone after dark. And I only took my youngest son, Scott, bowhunting one evening for the same reason. In the past I’d averaged fishing and bowhunting two nights a week. The fishing was usually with Fred, the bowhunting with my son or alone.
Remember, I was not the only one being harassed; a great many of our employees were as well. But since we had set the picket line crossing up right next to “The Swamp” so that Bill and I could document the crossings with photography and tape, I was very visible. In addition, we all had to cross the company parking lot many times a day to get to the main building in full view of the pickets and this almost always brought yelled threats or harassment.
Of the six people on our strike committee, two lived out of town and one had just joined the company, and the strikers didn’t know who he was. So most of their venom and frustration was taken out on Bob Kelly, Bill Annin and me.
CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
In addition, the strikers knew that I had gone to court on June 9th representing the company along with our controller, Ben Apps; our security chief, Ed Mischnick; and our attorney, Nelson Miles. We had gotten an injunction to limit the number of strikers who could be on the line and to keep open a 20-foot-wide access driveway into and out of the plant that they were to honor. In return, the company agreed to limit the number of employees we hired in an attempt to keep the peace. It was about a week after this June 9th court meeting that the six tires were slashed at my house. I was positive I knew who did it, because I saw them running away in the dark after our German shepherd barked and I recognized the get-away vehicle. But, without photographic proof it was a moot point, my word against theirs, so I didn’t pursue it. But I haven’t forgotten who did it.
I also had to go to court and testify about some of the photos we had taken of excessive harassment at the picket line. The strikers did not like me one bit. I was a real thorn in their side.
On the evening of July 12 as I was dropping Bill McIntosh off at his house on Old Dam Road, a pickup truck full of strikers passed us and hollered at us. Bill and I thought they were heading for my house a short distance away, so we followed them, but they were not there when we arrived. Bill Annin lived just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away on the Au Sable River, and Bill and I sneaked through the woods with our cameras and observed 15 to 25 strikers, who did not see us, giving Annin veiled threats about his new house. Rocks were also thrown. About 10 minutes later two pickup trucks full of strikers and four car loads arrived at Bob Kelly’s house and commenced with a great deal of shouting. By the time Bill Annin, Bill McIntosh and I arrived at Kelly’s with our cameras, the strikers were gone. That same night a pickup full of strikers also followed Rusty Weaver down M-72, passed on the right side and threw rocks at him. A half-hour later two pickups full of strikers threatened to turn over Joe Adkison’s car as he was talking to a friend at a local service station. Rocks were again thrown.
The next day city and Bear Archery officials met with the Michigan state police regarding the lack of local law enforcement manpower to handle this very explosive situation now that the strikers were taking the strike away from the picket line into the community and to people’s homes. That night Bob Ahrns and his family were harassed by another pickup truck full of strikers, and his little girl was so frightened she fell and cut her leg trying to run away from them. And that same night, two of the loudest-mouthed strikers threatened to kill Dave Meyers. This was a threat that many of our people heard over and over again.
I’ll just mention two specific examples other than the tire slashing and the broken windows that affected my family and me. And just about everyone working at Bear Archery during the strike can tell you of similar stories that affected them.
On July 14, 1976 the UAW filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge against Bob Kelly and me because of the letters and advertisements we had written to the community. It was Case No. 7-CA-13037. Nothing ever came of it. That same day we had again notified the Michigan State Police of the serious increase in incidents against our working employees throughout the community. That evening my wife and I drove down to Houghton Lake with two of our small children to eat and to get away from the strike for a little while. As we drove home we had to pass the plant and picket line. One of the strikers I knew hollered “scab” at us, and a pickup truck full of 10 strikers pulled out and followed us down M-72 to Old Dam Road, tailgating most of the way. As they followed us down Old Dam Road we passed the home of my assistant, Bill McIntosh, and luckily he was home and saw what was going on. Bill jumped into his vehicle and followed them with his camera. As we pulled into our driveway and stopped they started harassing us. Remember, one of the strikers had just said something on the radio, directed to me, about burning houses down.
“That’s a nice house you got there, fella,” one of them said. Another chimed in, “That’s the Bear ‘pitcher’ taker.” Someone else said, “scab kids” directed at my children. My wife, Alice, ran into the house, scared to death of these threats from 10 tough-looking guys, and brought out our German shepherd. When they saw that, one of the strikers yelled, “Wanta keep that dog, lady?”
I also had my camera with me and I took photos of the harassment as well. I was advised to file reports with both the sheriff’s department and our local prosecutor, which I did. Warrants were issued for those involved. Ours was the first case in which prosecutor John Huss decided to use MCLA 750.352. A few days later, the UAW filed suit against 83rd judicial judge Francis L. Walsh, John B. Huss, sheriff Harold Hatfield and police chief Pete Stephan seeking to prevent enforcement on our warrants and those signed by others. On July 27 the UAW dropped its suit against the local officials after Judge Porter said that MCLA 750.352 was still a valid Michigan law.
Five days after the pick-up truck full of strikers followed us home, the strikers passed out a flier listing my wife, Alice, as one of the “scabs” working at the plant, even though she NEVER worked for Bear Archery. It was a very vile piece as you can imagine, full of vitriolic language, aimed at vilifying the people on the list. This flyer was passed out on the picket line, put into mailboxes around the county, into newspaper boxes and passed out in other ways. The next day our attorney, Nelson Miles, sent a letter to the UAW requesting a retraction. That night one of the leading strikers, the woman mentioned earlier, yelled at me from the picket line, “I’ll see you in court, Lattimer. Go pick up your scabby wife!” The next day, another striker I knew yelled, “From school teacher to factory rat, to scab!”
I really wanted to bust somebody in the mouth, but I had my orders to represent management and Fred to the best of my ability and simply document everything for use in court, and that I did for more than two years. I kept my mouth shut and kept my cool. But it was very difficult not to physically confront these obnoxious people at the time with their boorish behavior. Especially when my innocent wife and children were the brunt of their viciousness.
I was not accustomed to this kind of treatment from unions. My dad had been a union member all my life, and I have to admit I was taken aback by how vicious some of these people acted toward me, especially since I knew many of them as regular people before the strike. And that was one of the problems. Many of them had moved up to Grayling and northern Michigan to get out of the big cities “down below” with all of their urban problems. They wanted to be able to hunt and fish in the area, raise their families in a safe environment, and enjoy the outdoor life in the North Country. Unfortunately, some of them also wanted to make the wages they had been making working down in the big factories, especially those who had been UAW members working in the auto factories in Detroit and the other Michigan locations. They forgot that there had to be a tradeoff in order to live in “God’s Country.” For example, I, too, took a 33 percent pay cut just so I could work for Fred in Grayling and raise my family in such a pristine environment.
Here is how the strike was justified in the single ad that the UAW ran in Grayling during the strike. This is just a small excerpt of the entire advertisement:
Going on strike was our decision, made by secret ballot vote. We took this action because, try as we did, we couldn’t get the company to correct the kind of actions that any reasonable person would want corrected-use of abusive language to women employees in the plant, ignoring our contract provisions in laying people off, in disregarding seniority, in ignoring job bidding procedures for employees.
On September 4th, Labor Day weekend, we had another mob picketing scene out at the Fred Bear Museum. Approximately 50 strikers were there when I arrived. The pickets were carrying 2-by-4’s, and threats were yelled at me regarding the lawsuit we had just filed. The sheriff and a deputy had to keep the mob away from my vehicle. Forty-five minutes later, Frank Scott and I decided we’d better close the museum since the strikers were drinking beer, sitting on the museum steps and threatening potential museum visitors as they approached the doorways. At 8 p.m. that night, Bill Annin and I decided we’d better post a 24-hour guard at the isolated museum location to protect it and its priceless contents. In addition to all of Fred’s bowhunting trophies and those from other people, it also contained centuries-old archery artifacts that had been collected and loaned or given to the museum by others. I had to stop by and let Fred and Mrs. B know about this, and they were very upset. You need to remember that this museum was an extension of Fred Bear and his whole persona.
Fred finally agreed that we needed to close the museum to help protect its contents and to keep the visiting public from such obnoxious scenes and possible harm. We kept it closed for four months, until January 1977. It broke the old man’s heart to have to do so, he was so very proud of the museum and what it meant to the community.
On Feb. 12, 1977, after we reopened, we again had mass picketing at the museum. This time I had a film crew in town along with astronaut Jim Lovell of Apollo 8 and Apollo 13 fame. We were filming segments of a movie we would title “The Good Earth,” and it included scenes of Fred and Jim talking in Fred’s living room about hunting and fishing and the benefits of the outdoor life. At the time, Jim was the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. While I oversaw the filming, I sent Bill McIntosh out to document the mass picketing by the 25 strikers out at the museum, and our security people out there had to keep the strikers from attacking Bill. Luckily I had taken Jim Lovell out to see the museum before the strikers showed up after stopping at our house on Old Dam Road to introduce him to Alice and my kids.
Incidentally, between 1978 and 1983 alone “The Good Earth” had been seen by 595,000 students in 8,782 schools, by 19 million television viewers in more than 1,000 telecasts, and 200 community groups. Our Fred Bear Sports Club had spent $74,000 during that time to distribute the film through Modern Talking Pictures and other outlets.
Earlier, I mentioned nails being thrown in the plant driveway on almost a daily basis, and on the driveways of many of our homes. I’m sure our security people and those of us living in town picked up thousands of these during the strike. One day Fred even dropped a note on my desk in “The Swamp” with a worn-down nail taped to it. He had written-“Suggest that we supply strikers with nails with quicker action. Got 1,600 miles on this one. Fred.”
FRED HURT, COMPANY HEALTHY
Why the strikers targeted Fred and the museum is beyond me, even now, more than a quarter-of-a-century later. Fred was 74 at the time and had given them all their chance to live and work in beautiful northern Michigan. He had always been very fair with them, and any hope they ever had of working again at Bear Archery hinged on how they treated he and his family. I can assure you, none of us forgot how they treated him during the strike and the embarrassment they caused him. Any chance they now had to approach him with an apology for going out on strike and getting their jobs back was gone, as far as I was concerned, once they violated the old man’s privacy, attacked the museum, and made threatening phone calls to his stepdaughter, Julia Kroll. I just don’t know what they were thinking.
It’s one thing to attack a company and its hired management, to be angry at replacement workers brought in to take over your job, and to be mad at old friends who chose not to go out on strike. But to attack a gentle 74-year-old man who founded the company in the first place, always treated them like a member of the family, and was as generous with them as was fiscally possible just didn’t and still doesn’t make any sense.
Now you may be interested in knowing how Bear Archery did as a business during the strike. In 1975 before the strike started our net sales were $17.4 million. Then, after the strike, and with many new replacement workers who had to be trained from scratch, we were able to increase our sales in 1976 to $18.5 million. And we built a record 360,000 bows that year! By 1977 we again increased sales, this time to $22.4 million. We started moving our plant to Florida that year and even with all of the turmoil, our 1978 sales only fell off to $19.8 million. By 1981, when we were well established in Gainesville with a well-trained workforce, our sales hit a high of $25.3 million.
You may ask how we were able to pull this off with all of the strife and confusion due to the UAW strike. Fortunately, the strike came at an ideal time, if any time with such a sad event can be called ideal. Up until 1974 100 percent of the bows we made were recurve bows. They required a great deal of hand workmanship and skill in forming and tillering them for maximum performance. It really was an art. But by the early 70s the compound bow came along. These were bows generally made out of cast metal handles, fiberglass or composite limbs, pulleys and cables. They were mechanical contraptions, as opposed to our traditional handcrafted products. They required assembly skills, not necessarily the old-fashioned woodcrafter’s skills.
Fred was opposed to compound bows for aesthetic reasons. He loved the lines and feel of the traditional recurve bows, as did I. He thought the newly introduced compounds were ugly and ungainly. He worried that they would be noisy to use in hunting, and tough to conceal in a hunting blind with all the metal and cables on them. He turned down the opportunity to introduce this type of new product to the hunting public when the product was first brought to him by the inventor.
But finally Fred realized that there was a big demand for compound bows and that he had better offer them to the market if we were to stay competitive and remain atop the archery business. In 1974 when we first began to build them, they represented less than 2 percent of our business, but after our 1975 catalog hit America, this jumped to 28 percent of our business. We anticipated at the time of the strike that 40 percent, or more, of our sales would be in this kind of product. Not only was it easier to build, but our gross profit on a compound bow was much better than on recurve bows. It took about half the labor to build compound bows compared to conventional recurve bows.
If we had been forced to continue to build recurve bows during the strike there is little doubt in my mind that we could not have been nearly as successful and probably would have gotten into serious financial difficulty. But, as the old saying goes, success is often just being in the right place at the right time, and unfortunately for the strikers and the UAW they picked a lousy time to strike Bear Archery.