Wisconsin Working To Keep Mercury Marine

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (AP) -- Officials in Wisconsin were working to keep Mercury Marine from moving its manufacturing operations to Oklahoma after union workers rejected a package of wage and benefit concessions the boat engine maker said was necessary.

Leaders of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 1947 did not release the tally from Sunday's vote but said it was "overwhelming" to reject what Mercury Marine called its final offer. The union represents 850 workers at the Fond Du Lac plant.

Mercury Marine, the world's largest manufacturer of boat and recreational marine engines, issued a statement after the vote saying it would move many of its Fond du Lac manufacturing operations to its nonunion plant in Stillwater, Okla., over the next two to three years. The company said it will continue to operate the Fond du Lac facility for now under the terms and conditions of the existing contract, which expires in 2012.

Mercury Marine is the largest employer in the eastern Wisconsin city of Fond du Lac, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle held out hope that the company and the union could resolve their differences.

"Mercury Marine is offering a remarkable opportunity to consolidate hundreds of jobs here in Wisconsin," Doyle said in a statement.

"I still believe that this opportunity exists and as long as it does, I will fight for it. But, I cannot do it alone," the governor said.

But Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel said local officials can't do anything about the manufacturing jobs and should instead focus on making sure Mercury Marine doesn't move the 900 jobs at its corporate headquarters.

Mercury Marine had asked for changes to a four-year contract it signed a year ago. The company had said workers would see no pay cuts under its proposal, but the union said workers were asked give up 2 percent pay raises in each of the last two years of the contract. The average hourly wage now is about $20, the union said. The proposal also called for lower wages for new hires and workers called back from layoffs, and changes in pension benefits that workers said would have made retirement unaffordable.

Local 1947 President Mark Zillges did not return a phone call Sunday seeking comment.

Zillges had said earlier that there would be no more negotiations, and Mercury Marine has said its offer won't change.

If Mercury Marine, a subsidiary of Lake Forest, Ill.-based Brunswick Corp., shuts down the Fond du Lac plant, it would mean an annual loss of $353 million in workers earnings and an additional 5,900 in lost jobs due to the impact on suppliers, government and business in the area, according to the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corp.

Fond du Lac City Manager Thomas Herre said city officials would meet Monday with all parties involved and try to figure out what to do next.

Mercury Marine's MerCruiser plant in Oklahoma, where Fond du Lac's production jobs could go, employs about 380 people.

The company, founded in 1939 as Kiekhaefer Corp. of Cedarburg, also has manufacturing operations in Tulsa, Okla., as well as South Carolina, Florida, Mexico, Japan, United Kingdom, Belgium and China.

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