Before the ink had dried on the DHL - ABX/A-Star agreement to operate the Wilmington airport as an overnight package sorting and delivery business, a meeting of local Port Authority commissioners was convened to decide whether or not to grant DHL’s request to change the name of the main road leading to its newly acquired facility to ‘DHL Way‘. One commissioner, Riley, voted for the name change; all the other commissioners voted against what was to DHL a very modest proposal. Executives from ABX/A-Star were instrumental in arranging the meeting, why?
This act was portentous.
DHL believed the road name change would be seen as a gesture by the local community of welcoming DHL and the massive investment that came with it. In anticipation, DHL had informed all the trucking companies that would be transporting goods to and from the Wilmington facility to use its main road, DHL Way. Chaos ensued, as thousands of trucks looking for a non-existent road descended upon the Wilmington sorting facility. The chaos cause delays at a time when smooth operation was essential to both DHL, its airport operators, and most importantly the customers of the overnight package delivery service. This beginning was not a shining example of German efficiency or American ingenuity.
We live in a time when the reality of international trade is no longer some distant affair that happens to countries of the developing world, but is a fact of life in small and large American communities alike. It is the borderless positioning of facilities to conduct business on a truly international scale.
I lived abroad for more than two decades in a community that welcomed Americans. And, Americans are going to have to learn to welcome foreign business interests as many other countries have had to learn to live with us and our ways of doing things on their shores.
The relationship between DHL and its airport operators ABX/A-Star never really recovered from the road sign debacle. Any partnership, must have at its core a basic shared vision and at least a modicum of mutual respect and the desire to work towards a common outcome.
The DHL - ABX/A Star relationship waxed and waned but never achieved a sense of common purpose. And, there came a time when the sparing partners decided to go their separate ways.
The loss or some 8000 jobs should have been a reason for the operators of the Wilmington airport to rise above their self interests and considered the impact on its workforce and the community at large. However, there is very little evidence that community triumphed over self-interest.
While, those who could find other work scrambled to abandon a sinking ship, the noble captains who in American movies and folklore are seen going down with their vessels, were busy co-opting various state agencies to secure the funds for them to survive with business interests related to the airport facility and, it seems, put very little effort into securing a just end for the workers.
Enter Lt Governor Lee Fisher, as the representative of the state’s chief executive, Governor Strickland. Together these two rolled out and held out the promise of all the benefits that the state could muster to assist the soon to be displaced Wilmington airport workers, such as, unemployment benefits, entitlements to educational benefits for re-training, transition counselling, job placement assistance, and so on and so forth.
Whereas, it can be shown that the Lt Governor did invest some time on matters affecting workers, it can also be shown that he spent a great deal of time and effort in securing state funds for former ABX/A-Star executives to continue operating small private businesses on the Wilmington airport site on very favourable and generous terms.
The roll out of benefits panacea for the workers seems to have been short-lived. Now that the cameras of 60 Minutes have gone, a much harsher reality has emerged. For example, those DHL workers who left early - before the closing but after the announcement of the end of operations, are still be eligible for benefits. The workers who thought they were doing the right thing by staying until the end, are no longer entitled.
Recently, a number of former DHL/ABX employees have been told that they are not entitled to educational benefits because their unemployment benefits would run out two or three weeks before the completion of their education.
The benefits office is ‘concerned’ as to how these former Wilmington airport workers would make ends meet for the two or three week period when they would be attending school after their benefits end. So, in order to help these former workers out of their dilemma the bebefit's office has decided not to give these former airport employees their educational benefits to finish their courses which have jobs waiting for them when they complete them.
The logic of these decisions evades this author.
Perhaps, the cash short Strickland/Fisher administration has taken a leaf out of the insurance company/HMO handbook, where the HMO’s interpret the rules to deny coverage and the insurance companies hold up their hands in innocence.
The leaders, and not their functionaries, must be held accountable as the State of Ohio breaks promise after promise to the DHL affected-area workers.
How can our leaders including the governor and the lieutenant governor of this state be trusted when on a daily basis the former DHL/ABX worker is told that the State of Ohio will no longer honour its commitments.
What I have presented here are facts, and facts can be convincing. It is, to be fair, the conclusions drawn form facts that are often in error.
And so, Governor Strickland and Lt Governor Fisher; prove me wrong.
More important than the shortcomings of the current administration in Columbus in dealing with the DHL closure and its committments to their constituents who lost their jobs, is the possibility that with the upturn in America's economic fortunes, DHL may well have to restart its Wilmington operation.
How could this come about. Manufactures, and other sellers and re-sellers have adopted a 'just in time' policy for inventory. That is, they to not warehouse inventory in anticipation of need, they wait until there is need and then stock inventory. This places a lot of goods needing to be transported rather quickly, and as a result the overnight freight delivery services, both air and land are increasing.
The Cincinnati airport hub of DHL cannot handle the upsurge and a re-opening of the Wilmington facility is a real possibility.
It is imperative, that the people of Wilmington and the entire DHL affected area pause and reflect on past experience. And welcome DHL back to the Wilmington facility.
The local Port Authority commissioners should join Commissioner Riley and rename the main entrance road to the facility 'DHL Way'.
Operation of the facility is now in the hands of the local Port Authorities, as it should be, since with political control comes civic responsiblity and public oversight.
To the people of Wilmington, and other communities across this country who have international companies in their midst, let the experiences of Wilmington be a guide that we will either welcome them and work with them, or not work with them and not work.