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Tom Shillue

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Will labor industry changes cost you your job?

Jason Rantz says you can see how evolving industries are affecting the worker. (AP file photo)

The last remaining Snohomish lumber mill is closing after operating for nearly 75 years. And if you know anything about the industry, which I didn’t until I read an article in The Daily Herald, this makes some sense.

The Seattle-Snohomish Mill is closing because the market, apparently, is overloaded with lumber with very little demand.

Megan McMurray told the Herald:

“In general, as a business owner, you have to assess the market and assess the bottom line.”

It’s difficult to compete with much larger companies around the Northwest and Canadian companies that are producing lumber, she said.

“It had nothing to do with my employees’ experience, performance or attitude,” McMurray said. “It had everything to do with the market.”

Those employees she’s speaking of? Sixty-eight of them will be without a job at the close of summer.

It’s the last mill in Snohomish and one of the few left in the state. The Herald reports “Since 2007, 10 lumber companies in Washington have filed notices with the state of pending employee layoffs or mill closures, according to the Employment Security Department.”

Nearly 300 folks will be out of work when Shelton’s Simpson Lumber Company closes down this month and another 76 workers were unemployed after Woodinville Lumber closed down.

I look at something like this and obviously we should be sympathetic to the folks who are going to be unemployed. I suppose a silver lining is that there’s plenty of notice for the folks in Snohomish, assuming they have skills they can put to use outside of the lumber industry.

Reading this story got me thinking more about the labor industry in general and how it’s been changing &#8212 some change for the good of individual businesses, but bad for individual employees.

These lumber mills are closing because there’s no demand for the product and they can’t compete with the big guys.

What happens when it’s the big guys &#8212 already competing with other big guys &#8212 that start to lose demand?

We’re seeing that in the fast food industry.

McDonald’s, for example, once a seemingly untouchable fast food giant, has been struggling pretty significantly. They’re not making the money they once made. They’re changing things up &#8212 from the mascots to the unhealthy, crappy food to slightly healthier, but still kinda crappy food.

So why am I bringing this up? Why is this relevant?

Because you can see how evolving industries are affecting the worker. Locally with lumber, you see smaller mills closing down because they can’t keep up with the trends associated with their businesses. The consumer demand and commercial demand isn’t there.

Now we’re seeing the changing behavior of the consumer with fast food like McDonald’s. They’re doing what they can to stay in business. It’s not dire yet, but they see the writing on the wall and they’re making changes.

Part of those changes will include automation, which means even if these businesses stay open, they’ll have less humans working there. Ultimately, it means more people out of work. They’ll do what Darrington’s Hampton Lumber Mill did, which for them was laying people off &#8212 76 people in 2011 &#8212 in order to survive.

And this will happen even quicker if you’re stuck on the minimum wage increase. As you fight for a higher wage &#8212 a higher than you’re worth &#8212 without full knowledge of the changing industry that many of you find yourselves in &#8212 you’ll find yourself speeding up your demise.

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