Despite the announcement of up to 1,500 layoffs in the coming months at engine manufacturer Cummins, Columbus officials say the local economy is not too reliant on its largest employer.
Since at least the beginning of the recession, hiring and firing at Cummins has been typified by big numbers. Several hundred people hired or fired with each peak and valley of what has been a roller coaster ride for employees, especially the least senior workers whose jobs are most in danger.
Those people are represented by the Diesel Workers Union, a shop which exclusively covers Cummins workers. A union official declined a taped interview for this story, but Columbus Economic Development Board Chairman Chip Orben says worker uncertainty is one reason his group is trying to secure investment from other manufacturers.
“Cummins is one of the, if not the largest employer in the city and that’s why a part of our economic development strategy is try to diversity our base so that we aren’t so top-heavy on any one company or any one industry, to be quite honest,” he says.
Former Columbus Mayor Fred Armstrong says the boom-and-bust nature of hiring and firing was common at Cummins during his 16 years in office, regardless of whether the economy was up or down.
“My bother worked at Cummins for many, many years and he was one of those that would get laid off, return back to work, laid off, return back to work,” Armstrong says. ” I think it’s one of those things that you accept. You don’t like it, but you accept that when you go into a large company.”
A union official tells WFIU talks are ongoing between Cummins and those who represent its workers about the exact number of pink slips to be handed out and whether the layoffs will affect two plants or three.