Last updated: April 26. 2014 8:16AM - 997 Views
By - mechelberry@civitasmedia.com

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) speaks to employees inside Lifetouch Church Directories on April 23. (Inquirer photos/Matt Echelberry)
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) speaks to employees inside Lifetouch Church Directories on April 23. (Inquirer photos/Matt Echelberry)
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He may have gotten stopped by a train on his way through Galion, but U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown made it to Lifetouch Church Directories on Wednesday afternoon. The Democratic senator of Ohio met with the company’s leadership and toured its Galion facility.

In addition to the staff at the plant, several executives from Lifetouch, Inc., based in Minnesota, came out in support of the event. Officials from the City of Galion and the Chamber of Commerce attended as well.

After the tour, Brown met Lifetouch’s 300-plus employees in front of the building and they posed for a photo. Then there was a press briefing inside a conference room.

Plant Manager Don Lane stated, “We are excited to have Senator Brown with us today to see firsthand our facility, our products, our employee-owners, but most of all, the difference that employee ownership makes for all our associates.”

Lifetouch has been utilizing the Employee Stock Ownership Plan for over 30 years (15 years at the Galion facility). In 1978, the company transferred 100 percent of the ownership to its employees. It has become a tool to unite the Lifetouch family with a sense of purpose, providing incentive for performing the highest-quality work while providing funds for retirement.

Brown, who is originally from Mansfield, explained he is currently working on a bill to help companies with existing ESOP’s, and encourage more companies to offer them, because those are the companies that typically do better.

“As we continue our economic recovery, business models like Lifetouch should be considered as a way for businesses to boost productivity, sales, wages and help improve working conditions overall,” he commented.

Lifetouch employees had an opportunity to ask the senator questions. (Brown’s responses are paraphrased.)

Q: If you had to choose one item to focus on what would that be?

Brown: Finding a path to the middle class for young people. A generation ago, the manufacturing industry was the ticket to getting into the middle class; it offered good paying jobs and families could afford decent things. We need to find that path again, through job creation and training, as well as improved financial aid for college.

Q: How do you deal with bi-partisan gridlock?

Brown: You find ways around it on some issues. We passed a minimum wage increase bi-partisanly in 2007. Right now we’re working on a new manufacturing bill that will keep traditional manufacturing while incorporating new technology and innovation, and build “manufacturing hubs” across the country. The bottom line is you have to find things you can agree on.

Q: If they raise minimum wage, doesn’t everything else go up, too?

Brown: People always say if you increase minimum wage, then prices will go up and people will get laid off. But they never say that when an executive gets a $1 million bonus. So I don’t buy it. Minimum wage today has one-third less buying power than it did in 1968. Studies show that literally millions of people would rise above the poverty line if minimum wage is increased enough. There would be some job loss but most prices would not go up significantly, and because those workers will have more money to spend, they helps the local economy. I think most people are willing to pay a little more if it means keeping jobs in the U.S. and having fair wages.

Q: What can you do to ensure that employee ownership stays around?

Brown: Most members of Congress don’t quite know what ESOP’s are. It’s probably because they’ve never been to a company that has one. Politicians don’t know enough about enough things, so get our attention and teach us. Invite people to the plant; not enough people know what this means.

Lifetouch Church Directories is located at 1371 State Route 598, Galion. Its vision is to be the leading employee-owned photographic company providing innovative products and services that capture the spirit of today and preserve the memories of tomorrow.

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