Landscaper gives back with D.C. field dayIn today's...


November 27, 1992|By Kim Clark

Landscaper gives back with D.C. field day

In today's economy, many employers are cutting back on "feel-good" events such as Christmas parties. But some companies are turning togetherness days into charitable events.

Once a year since 1981, Ruppert Landscaping Inc. of Ashton has turned a workday into a fun day by holding a horticulturist's Olympics -- complete with lawn mower races, tree-planting tournaments and backhoe trials.

But this year, company founder Craig A. Ruppert decided that the field day should do more than hone workers' skills. His idea: helping the community by fixing up a Washington soccer field.

Besides improving a park, the project would give something back to the company's workers. More than 60 percent of Ruppert's field workers are Hispanic, and dozens lived in the neighborhood near the field, which had become known as "La Polvosa" [The Dust Bowl], he said.

So after the company games on July 24, all of Ruppert's 300 workers gathered at the soccer field, planted trees and laid out 6,100 square feet of donated sod.

Mr. Ruppert said the donation of landscaping services has been great for the company's public image and for employee morale.

Organizing a bigger-than-ever field day was "not an easy thing," Mr. Ruppert said. But events like the field day are needed most in bad economic times, he says.

"There is more pressure on everyone to work efficiently, work longer hours . . . It is more important when times are tough to recognize your people," he said.

Mr. Ruppert plans to keep offering workers the annual Christmas Party, company picnic and frequent "appreciation barbecues."

And the company will maintain its ties to the community, he said. Repairing the soccer field was such a success that the company has promised to maintain the field for the next year.

Health insurance leads benefits list

Benefits continue to become more important to workers, and health insurance leads the pack.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute finds that three out of four Americans say benefits are "very important" when they consider a job offer -- up from 57 percent in 1990.

Americans say they would give up health insurance only if their employers offered them $4,570. That's a $474 increase from last year.

NLRB ruling may slow 'quality' movement

Will the quality circle be broken?

By-and-by, some Maryland employers fear.

Consider a corporate dispute that union officials say is no big deal but that some local managers fear sets a dangerous precedent. In that case, the National Labor Relations Board is expected to force a non-union company to disband its employee committees or face a unionization drive.

Employers concede that the latest fad in management, cooperative groups of workers and supervisors -- often called quality committees or teams -- can be viewed as meeting the 1935 National Labor Relations Act definition of a union. Most employers also agree that company-dominated unions can be abused.

But management and labor are trading barbs over a high-profile dispute at Electromation Inc. of Elkhart, Ind. One side contends that loss for would destroy the "quality" movement in American business; the other says it would protect workers from being unfairly manipulated by employers.

"My personal view is that we are in trouble," says Stephen Hodlin, vice president of quality for Gaithersburg-based Penril Datacomm Inc.

Penril was turning out poor quality electronic equipment and was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1987. In a bid to save the company, managers started forming total quality teams of workers and managers.

Since then, productivity and profitability have completely turned around, he said.

Mr. Hodlin says the teams are key to his company's competitiveness and aren't company unions. Penril tries to make sure that the teams don't handle traditional union issues such as pay. "Our rule is they must focus on process, not human resources issues."

But if the NLRB rules against Electromation, Penril will "have to dismantle the teams, or they will be eligible for outside representation" -- neither of which Penril wants.

The teams "help to keep unions out," he said. "If you treat people well, there is less need for a union."

But that is exactly why union officials say Electromation should lose.

The company started forming work teams only when the Teamsters started organizing the plant, says Gary Witlen, an attorney for the Teamsters.

Electromation's committees were dominated by the company he said, and they dealt with issues normally handled by unions, such as safety and work assignments.

Mr. Witlen says he's puzzled by managers' alarm over the ruling, since unions endorse quality circles and the like.

"We just object to a company creating and dominating these committees" to undercut an organizing drive, he said.

U.Va. sends resumes out on IBM disk

The University of Virginia is sending out an IBM disk containing resumes of its 1,253 graduating seniors.

Once loaded onto a computer, the Virginia file allows personnel managers to get a list of those graduates interested in working in their region, or with experience in their field, or any combination of variables.

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