Earlier, I had received encouragement from “Rib” Meredith. Rib taught labor economics when I was at Case Tech. He also negotiated labor agreements as a consultant. After negotiating several labor agreements myself, I decided some help might be in order and contacted Rib. It turned out he had worked as a football coach at Waynesburg High School in the 1930s and had some knowledge of the people and situation. His first lesson, “Since you are the final authority, stay out of it until we bring you the possibilities and then make a decision.” Second lesson, “Be careful of your language, in the heat of the moment we tend to say if you don’t do this, I’ll do this and before you know it, you have painted yourself in a corner, requiring backing down or doing something you really didn’t want to do. However, once decided, say very carefully to the person that you are giving him a direct order and if he refuses, the consequences will be swift and final.”

I talked with Rib about the problems of my situation and problems of getting labor agreements in the future when the loss of the hot top business would continue to drag down employees’ earnings. Rib said, “There is still a lot of spirit in this town. You can go into any bar here and announce the town is a dump and you will have a fight on your hands. I believe the people will stick with you and you will succeed, but I know a good headhunter if you want to look around.” I talked with the headhunter and decided to stay and confront the problems I know about rather than unknown problems.

A few years later, the contract expired again. With no money, we had gotten agreements by granting such things as a pension plan, breaking a solid industry stand, and received in exchange a three-year labor contract with little front-end cost. However, as the years passed, it was apparent that our supervisors felt the union would back down if we took a firmer stand. As products and processes changed and with money tight, supervision and training of workers was more work and our people were frustrated. One of the issues this time was seniority. The issue in reality was a minor cost factor but for some reason, an aggravation to the supervisors. Rib Meredith and I discussed the matter driving home from a negotiating meeting. I said I couldn’t back down on this because I was losing the support of my supervisors. Rib said, “Seniority issues are generally strike issues, although resisting this provision is of no value to the company.” I replied that I knew it was a strike issue and of no importance to the company, except for the supervisors’ attitude. Rib said, “You realize that once they strike it usually takes six weeks for opposition to the strike to form and reach a settlement.” I said, “We had to take a strike.” Rib said, “That’s real leadership, but a hard way to do it.” After the strike had gone for three weeks, the supervisors were anxious to settle and get back to work. I said, “It may take a while but if you’re ready, I am.” In a few days, we worked out an agreement.