Remember Paris

When Emerson pulls out of this small southern town, it'll leave bitterness and broken promises behind. That's what happens when a marriage ends badly.

The most experienced workers would receive about $7.33 an hour base pay.

"Our people [are] trying to work with the company," a union spokesman told the Post-Intelligencer. "They want to keep Emerson in Paris."

Five days later, Emerson announced Paris had won out over the Murphy plant.

Home Depot's Bernie Marcus (right) joined Chuck Knight (left) in Paris, Tennessee, in August 1998 to officially launch the Ridgid power-tool line. Four years later, the companies announced they were moving production overseas and closing Emerson's factory.
Bill McCutcheon/Paris Post-Intelligencer
Home Depot's Bernie Marcus (right) joined Chuck Knight (left) in Paris, Tennessee, in August 1998 to officially launch the Ridgid power-tool line. Four years later, the companies announced they were moving production overseas and closing Emerson's factory.
Jennifer Silverberg

It'd taken $1.2 million and a wage freeze to save the factory. There were other sacrifices, too: The plant's cafeteria would eventually close -- instead of a hot sausage biscuit, employees had to settle for vending-machine donuts.

But Chadwick and her co-workers were still employed.

The reprieve would prove short-lived.

In 1997, Sears told Emerson that it was reevaluating the supplier relationship between the two companies. Sears wanted to cut costs and was looking for someone to make Craftsman products more cheaply. Sears says it invited Emerson to submit a new bid, but Emerson refused.

Sears was attempting to do to Emerson what Emerson had done to Paris.

But Chuck Knight wasn't just some elected official from small-town U.S.A., eager to keep business at any cost.

Emerson simply walked away from Sears' business, analysts who followed the St. Louis company said at the time.

On June 30, 1997, Sears formally told Emerson the contract, first signed in 1968, was ending.

According to factory workers in Paris, Emerson execs blamed Sears.

"They tried to turn us against Sears," Chadwick says.

After Sears announced the Craftsman deal was dead, Emerson scrambled to try to fill the crater that would be left when the last Craftsman tool came rolling off the line October 1, 1998.

Emerson also knew it needed to keep the plant open four more years to live up to its 1992 deal with Paris.

For workers, the issues were simple. They needed jobs to keep the roofs over their heads and food on their tables.

The city and county, already hit by other plant closings, needed the jobs for its citizens and tax revenue for its coffers. And suppliers -- other companies in Tennessee, Kentucky and nearby states -- also depended on the plant.

Emerson turned to Home Depot, a company that had been making overtures to the motor maker for some time.

"I've had conversations with Emerson for eight years to get them to make these tools for us, but they couldn't because of the loyalty to Sears," Bernard Marcus told the Atlanta Constitution at the '98 picnic.

With loyalty no longer in the picture, Emerson was free to hook up with a company that Wall Street recognized as a fast-rising star. The deal with Emerson gave Home Depot its first-ever line of power tools, letting it compete with Lowe's and Sears. With Ridgid, an Emerson brand name already well-known in the plumbing industry, Home Depot was also getting instant credibility with professionals and do-it-yourselfers.

Analysts applauded. They recognized that the deal might prove more profitable for Emerson than staying with Sears.

But Emerson still had to pay the costs of creating an entire new line. Starting from scratch -- without tooling, machines, drawings, plans or dies -- should've been prohibitive both in terms of cost and in terms of the time needed to develop the products, Sears alleges.

So, Sears claims, Emerson took an illegal shortcut. It used the Craftsman design as a blueprint, as well as Sears tooling and machinery, to get a jump start on the Ridgid line. And it did so, Sears claims, after signing a contract expressly agreeing not to use the tools, patterns, designs or molds developed for Sears for the benefit of another company selling tools in the U.S.

In its lawsuit, Sears alleges that it requested a list of the machines in the plant. In the spring of 1998, Emerson provided a list, but Sears claimed some of its property wasn't included. As a result, Sears asked to audit the inventory at the Paris plant.

Emerson agreed, but the Sears team was greeted as warmly as weapons inspectors in Iraq. Sears claims its team, which included auditors from Deloitte and Touche, was barred from taking pictures and inspecting the property during plant hours. Instead, Emerson would only let the auditing team into the plant in the early morning or late afternoon.

Sears claims that Emerson executives repeatedly warned them about their safety, that "workers at the plant might do physical harm to the Sears audit team."

However, Sears says that the auditors were never threatened by the plant workers. The executives, not the factory hands, were the problem.

Paris politicians and government officials are also skeptical that the union would have ever made any threats against Sears or its auditors.

"I cannot imagine any difficulties like that," says Ray Whitlow, director of economic development for Paris and Henry County. "These are country folks that are used to working."

Sears claims that, in addition to making it difficult for them to inspect the plant, Emerson stashed a lot of equipment in an abandoned shirt factory, equipment that Emerson claimed was obsolete. Although auditors were allowed into the factory, the suit claims that the machinery was stacked in such a way that many of the serial numbers were hidden from view. Sears also claims that two expensive and relatively new pieces of equipment were tucked behind large bins in an attempt to conceal them from the auditors. Sears claims that the scene was disorganized and chaotic, making it impossible to conduct a thorough or accurate audit.

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