Monday, April 24, 2017

Tears and Laughter: Is Golden Dragon Copper tarnished?

[Background: In September 2012, I was taken to see the site of the new Golden Dragon factory by the Mayor of Thomasville, Alabama. The ground had just been broken, so there was not yet much to see, but the story looked a promising one: a locality with a rural unemployment problem and a caring town government was about to host a production facility that would provide lots of jobs. Unfortunately, it seems Golden Dragon pursued employment, safety and other management practices more akin to those in China, with the result that there were fewer jobs than expected, at lower wages, and the factory has therefore been plagued with high labor turnover and low profitability. The sad thing is that these troubles could have been avoided if the management had chosen to seek advice on how to develop a profitable commercial strategy along with a multi-faceted, properly monitored set of responsible business conduct policies that would not only have complied with the law but would also have met the expectations of the community in which the company had chosen to establish its operations. Other companies considering greenfield investments of this kind would be well advised to take note.]



This article by Amanda Walker was published on the Al.com website on August 10, 2016.

Remember back when Golden Dragon Copper plant came to Sunny South? The quiet rural country community had stood still until it was possessed by the China‑owned company in 2014. They chose Wilcox County, after much courting by area politicians who did things like bring them huge containers of banana pudding once it was noticed several Golden Dragon officials liked the Southern favorite. It became known as, "the secret weapon."

There were also tax incentives that prompted Golden Dragon's decision to choose Sunny South...which was honestly a little unexpected at the time. It was first thought they would naturally choose to locate in Thomasville located in Clarke County over poor old Wilcox County. In fact, up until the county line became a compensation divide, Thomasville didn't particularly want all that much to with Wilcox County. They barely claimed us as neighbors. Especially after Clarke County was no longer dry. But when Golden Dragon chose Sunny South a whole new place emerged, the Thomasville/West Wilcox Industrial Park.

No one could have asked for a bigger butt‑kissing festival than the one that took place during the delayed opening ceremony of this plant. The Wilcox arts council wanted to collaborate with Chinese students at the University of West Alabama to put on a full‑ on parade including those big colorful dragon head costumes like they run around wearing in China. But the arts council was told by Golden Dragon officials that there were problems getting visas for some of their employees and they could not give a firm date for a grand opening. Maybe nobody thought to ask at the time exactly what percentage of their workforce would ultimately come from China. But what we do know now is that communication was an initial issue that continues to be a problem, few people from Wilcox County have a job there, and the place looks like a commune with the number of dorms built around it for Chinese employees.

When it first started operation, Governor Bentley would brag about it like it was a savior arriving in the form of low‑skilled jobs for the unemployed, unskilled workforce of Wilcox County graduating high school unable to do ninth grade math or pass a drug test.

Apparently, none of the enthusiastic politicians did the math equating the fact that low‑skilled also means low‑income. And although there were loud murmurs questioning the overall outcome of having the foreign operated plant locate in Sunny South, there was hope. Desperate people like hope. They cling to it like faith, and local leaders know to use this.

Last week Golden Dragon Copper was fined $196,000 in penalties by the United States Department of Labor for violating 14 safety violations. The violations include unguarded machine parts, no safety rails, no fire extinguishers, exposing workers to electric shock, and for not training employees on an emergency plan of action or first aid.

 What we are learning is low‑skilled jobs plus low‑pay equals low concern for employees. But none of this, not one single sentence, is about Golden Dragon Copper. It's about the leadership that pursued them and how sometimes not everything they stand behind a podium and promise through a microphone to any news outlet that will listen is worth believing. They may claim they have our interests in mind...but it is by their fruit that you can know them.

Amanda Walker is a columnist and contributor with AL.com, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Contact her at Walkerworld77@msn.com or at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.

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