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Amid Downturn, Communities Sacrifice to Avoid Layoffs

Though the jobless rate continues to rise, workers across the country are making sacrifices to avoid more layoffs and "share the pain" of the economic slump. NewsHour business correspondent Paul Solman reports.

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    On a day that brought news to hundreds of thousands of new job losses, economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at the sacrifices some people are making to avoid more layoffs. His report is part of our series on making sense of the financial crisis.

    PAUL SOLMAN, NewsHour economics correspondent: At the Conn-Selmer brass instrument plant in Elkhart, Indiana, Bob Stemm was doing his best to sell us a shiny new trombone by playing the PBS siren song.

    When last month's jobless rate came out, we showed how stalled R.V. sales had ravaged Elkhart. But the town is also famous for musical instruments. And that business, too, is — like my trombone tryout — more than a little flat.

    As school budgets have shrunk, so have school bands, driving down sales. The last time the company was under siege, from Chinese competition three years ago, it cut wages from about $23 to $18 an hour and eliminated piecework, by which the fastest workers earned much more.

    The cuts prompted a strike that still drags on, though just a few ex-workers still man a makeshift protest shed across from the plant.


    We're still holding out, asking for a fair negotiated contract.


    But in this crisis, Conn-Selmer was making more horns than the market would bear. So it tried a new approach, what it calls pain-sharing. Instead of cuts in hourly pay or massive layoffs, CEO John Stoner suggested cutting the work week.

  • JOHN STONER, CEO, Conn-Selmer:

    We felt pretty comfortable that, with everything else going on in the Elkhart community, knowing people with neighbors who're losing jobs, that they would say, "I'd rather have a job even four days a week than not having a job."


    With layoffs and a wage freeze for higher-paid salaried workers, some 25 jobs have been saved in a factory of 125 line workers, one of whom is Ryan Porzelius, fiddling here with a flugelhorn.


    This way more people get to work. You know, I'm not a selfish guy. I don't mind giving up a little for the greater good of the whole.


    Stephanie Artley, who came back to work after striking for a year, makes sure the trombone slides.


    It's kind of like who gets in a lifeboat and who doesn't get in a lifeboat. So I think it's better that we all get an oar and just kind of paddle along and keep each other floating.

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