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US - No layoffs at Nucor despite bad economy

In its worst year ever, it would be easy to assume that Nucor Corporation would lay off employees. Not so. The steelmaker, with 20,000 employees worldwide, has never laid off anyone for lack of work even in 2009 when it lost USD 294 million.

Nucor has a plant in Oak Creek that makes steel bars used in everything from tractors and mining machines to locks and sporting equipment. It pays some of the industry's highest wages yet has lower production costs and, usually, higher profits than its competitors. Last year was the first time Nucor did not record an annual profit.

Mr Jerry Richie production manager at Oak Creek said that "We are coming off our worst year in history, both as a local plant and as a corporation. But no one in our organization, all 20,000 employees, was laid off. We do not lay people off. It's not a policy, but it's a practice."

Mr Richie said that everyone shares the wealth in the good times and the pain in the bad times. And while Nucor did not lay anyone off in 2009, employees felt their share of the pain through reduced pay.

Mr Richie said that "People were severely impacted from a pay standpoint, in terms of hours being cut and our unique bonus structure. But everyone also understood that they kept their jobs and their benefits."

Mr Richie said that "There were some difficult weeks. But we kept people engaged and the place looks great."

Nucor's Oak Creek operation ranked No 8 among small employers on the Journal Sentinel's Top 100 Workplaces list. Although the company is large, it was listed among small employers because it has only about 60 employees locally.

The Nucor plant is unique because it emphasizes pay for performance. When the plant is busy, and everyone's pulling together, people on the shop floor earn about USD 24 per hour. When it's slow or there are production problems, pay can drop to less than USD 12.50 per hour.

When the need for steel products plummeted, Nucor kept people working through things such as training, landscaping and building maintenance. One employee installed new rain gutters on the building, a type of work he had done in a previous career.

Nucor employees who were surveyed praised a workplace where everyone gets treated equally, where safety comes first and production is key. There were high marks for dedication and teamwork, and for a feeling of job security. The surveys also reflected a sentiment found universally among highly ranked workplaces "The organization cares about the people first."

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