Unilever: quiet but important local presence

500 Baltimore workers make household products

`Ladder to the middle class'

Holabird Avenue plant to be featured Thursday

May 06, 2002|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

At a recent meeting of about 200 manufacturers at the World Trade Center in Baltimore, this question was posed: How many people have heard of Unilever? Not a single hand went up.

The company might not be a household word, but its products are in households across the country, and the $49 billion conglomerate operates a 500-person plant in Baltimore.

The 50-acre plant is the sole source of the following products sold in the United States: liquid Wisk, all and Surf laundry detergents, and liquid Final Touch and Snuggle fabric softeners. It is also responsible for a large portion of the Dove and Caress bar soaps that are sold nationwide.

"Here we've got a city that's losing people that could use two things, a stronger tax base and well-paying jobs, and here we've got a company that provides that," said Mike Galiazzo, executive director of the Regional Manufacturing Institute.

Unilever's plant on Holabird Avenue will be featured Thursday in a joint program by RMI and the World Trade Center Institute. The "Inside" series is highlighting five local manufacturers. The first was McCormick & Co. Inc. The other three are Dap Inc., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Phillips Foods Inc.

The events are open to the public, but reservations must be made through the WTCI in advance.

Unilever has about 280,000 employees worldwide in 88 countries. The Baltimore plant is the company's largest in terms of tons of volume produced. Unilever also owns a plant in Hagerstown that makes Breyers and Good Humor ice cream, and a Lipton plant in Baltimore on Southwestern Boulevard.

Gary Sysak, manager of the Holabird Avenue plant, said the company will highlight two areas at the Thursday event. One is Unilever's "total productive manufacturing" method, which seeks to identify and eliminate losses. The other is the company's "enterprise culture."

"We are providing a work environment and a culture across the company that makes people feel good about what they're doing, involved in what's going on, that lets them know we are open to new ideas," Sysak said.

"The company's on a major push to grow the business globally, and we recognize that we will not be able to do that unless everybody is on board and working in the same direction."

The 77-year-old plant, which Unilever bought in 1938, is staffed mostly by members of the International Chemical Workers Union. Sysak said the average manufacturing job pays about $20 an hour, not including health, dental and 401(k) benefits.

"It should be a source of pride for the city that a plant like this is operating here," Galiazzo said. "Here's a ladder to the middle class."

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