Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Recycling at Habitat Builds Homes in Sandhills

Recycling in the Sandhills continues to expand in many different ways. One approach even contributes to the construction of new homes for families in need. Items ranging from home furnishings and electrical appliances to building materials and plumbing supplies are recycled at the Habitat Moore Store when local residents donate these items. When they are sold, the store raises funds for Habitat for Humanity of the NC Sandhills.

Ken Pierson, store manager since it opened several years ago, says that the local Habitat affiliate has built 39 houses in the Sandhills with the money generated by store sales. The donation program has expanded much by “word of mouth,” says Pierson, who has more than 30 years of experience in retail operations.

Donations occur for a variety of reasons, he says. Sometimes a family is moving to another region, and buying new furnishings there is often more economical than paying the moving expense. Other families are downsizing to small living quarters.

Another major contributor is Joy Wise, who conducts tag sales throughout the Sandhills. Leftovers from sales conducted by Wise are donated sometimes two or three times a month, according to Pierson.

When a tag sale ends, Pierson sends a Habitat truck to the home and loads items in good condition that can be sold in the store. Because the family receives a receipt for a tax deduction, more of these donations are occurring.

In addition to recycling home furnishings and accessories, the Habitat store has recently begun dedicated recycling operations of metals and cardboard.

Recycling Success

This effort began about two years ago when the Habitat affiliate received a grant from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources that was used to purchase a bailer needed to recycle cardboard. At the same time it also began recycling aluminum soft drink cans and heavy metals.

The heavy metals range from tin to cast iron, Pierson says. Popular donations include appliances such as refrigerators. However, the Habitat store has very limited repair ability. If a donated appliance does not work, the store tries to salvage as many parts as it can and recycle them. (If an appliance is still in working condition, Habitat even picks it up at no charge and then prepares it for sale later in the store.)

Computers are frequently donated. If they are not working, the store usually strips parts to recycle them. In addition, the Habitat store frequently donates computers to Sandhills Community College where they are used in classes taught by Professor Paul Steel in the computer engineering technologies program. In addition, the college repairs some computers for Habitat. In fact, Pierson’s son Stephen has been a student in these classes.

The donations and heavy metals recycling efforts get a major boost from Keith Home Appliance Solutions in Aberdeen. When one of Keith’s customers buys a new appliance to replace a washer, dryer or refrigerator, the old appliance is regularly donated to Habitat and the customer receives a receipt for a tax deduction. Even if the customer turns in the old appliance as trade-in, Keith’s drops it off for the customer at the Habitat store, and Habitat mails the receipt directly to the customer.

In the community, the Habitat store has created a network of regional businesses to support its recycling efforts. For example, it processes heavy metals through Sandhills Recycling in Aberdeen and cardboard through Wagram Paper Stock, which has also provided a trailer to help with collection efforts. In addition, Reynolds Recycling has provided bins to collect aluminum cans.

Proceeds from metal and cardboard recycling contribute enough money annually to build one-third of a house in the Sandhills. Pierson’s goal is to develop the program so that Habitat can build a house completely from the recycling proceeds each year.

The recycling effort, like most Habitat operations, relies heavily on volunteers. The store on N.C. 5 in Aberdeen depends on 65 regular volunteers each week for its operations. Most work a four-hour shift each week, although a few volunteers are “so committed to Habitat” that they work four or five days a week, Pierson says. In fact, last year more than 110 volunteers donated over 12,000 hours in the store, he says.

Store Customers

The store’s customers are a full range of shoppers, Pierson says. Some buyers are families with a child going to college, and they want to fill a dorm room with used furniture. Others own rental property and visit frequently to find high-end furniture such as an Ethan Allen set. Other shoppers are low-income residents looking for a good deal, he says, and the store also attracts a lot of collectors who are looking for a specific game or vintage collectible.

Pierson says that he is continually amazed by how the store attracts many out-of-state shoppers who are familiar with Habitat stores throughout the country. The Moore store attracts buyers from all over the Southeast, and he has seen several regular shoppers who always stop as they drive by on trips. “Some people even go looking for Habitat stores when they are on vacation,” he says.

Everyone who donates to the Habitat store or shops there is contributing to a “greener” Sandhills by how it recycles household items and now metals and cardboard. As these efforts before more successful, the Sandhills will also become a better place to live for many families who previously could not afford their own homes.

Habitat for Humanity of the NC Sandhills is celebrating its 21st year this year of serving families in the Sandhills. Since being founded over 30 years ago, Habitat International has become one of the top 20 homebuilders in the United States and is the largest among nonprofits. Its volunteers have built homes with more than 300,000 families in need in over 3,000 communities and 90 other countries. As a result, more than 1.5 million people around the world live in safe, decent, affordable homes sold by Habitat to its partner families at no profit through no-interest mortgages.
Note: This posting is a slightly edited version of an article published originally in The Pilot (Southern Pines, NC) on January 6, 2010 (pages B1-B2).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

For Labor, an Intensifying Southern Split

Two recent developments involving to wages, benefits, and the right to join or support a union demonstrate that these issues continue to be important for the South.

First, workers at the world’s largest hog slaughterhouse — it processes 32,000 hogs a day — voted in favor of the union that had long sought to represent the plant’s employees. Second, most Southern senators voted against considering the $14 billion bailout for Detroit automakers that has significant labor implications.

The vote by employees at the Smithfield Foods plant in Bladen County was noteworthy because the United Food and Commercial Workers Union had been trying to unionize the plant since it opened in 1992. This time the workers voted narrowly -- 2,041 to 1,879 -- for union representation.

The vote scored a huge victory for organized labor in the South, the region with the country’s lowest rate of trade union membership, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The rates of many Southern states are less than 5 percent, and North Carolina has the nation’s lowest, 3.3 percent.

The South overwhelmingly consists of right-to-work states that guarantee for employees the right to decide whether to join or financially support a union (Kentucky is a major exception). As a result, the South has been quite successful in persuading foreign auto manufacturers to build plants here.

Although Michigan and Indiana lead the country in auto employment, the next three states may be a surprise: Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama.

Tennessee is home to Nissan’s North American headquarters as well as an assembly plant. Volkswagen plans a new assembly plant in Chattanooga. Other plants in the South include BMW’s plant in Spartanburg, SC and three (Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai-Kia) in Alabama. In fact, Alabama, which has seen the biggest recent net gain in auto-related jobs, has added more than 30,000 in the last 10 years.

As the union representation vote in Bladen County, N.C., was being counted, the vote in the Senate showed a differing view concerning union membership and benefits. Because the United Automobile Workers did not agree to immediate wage cuts, most Southern Republican senators withheld support for the Detroit rescue plan, even though it had just been approved in the House by a vote of 237 to 170.

These senators, led by Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, clearly distanced themselves from the problems of the Big Three and their union workforces, saying, “Few of us had anything to do with the dilemma that they have created for themselves.”

Who were the other leading critics?

Bob Corker of Tennessee said that the bill did not set firm requirements for Detroit. Richard Shelby of Alabama added, “We have reached a point that labor has got to give. If they want a bill, they can get one.” David Vitter of Louisiana charged, “It sounds like the UAW blew it up.”

Although North Carolina’s two Republican senators split their votes (Richard Burr opposed; Elizabeth Dole supported), most Southern senators joined in rejecting the bailout. Why such an overwhelming rejection? Is the investment of almost $40 billion in 70 U.S. facilities -- many in the South -- by foreign companies in the last 30 years a factor?

Concerning the proposed rescue plan, McConnell said, “Its greatest single flaw is that it promises taxpayer money today for reforms that may or may not come tomorrow.”

What reforms did the Southerners want?
  • Cut wages and benefits to match those of workers employed by foreign manufacturers -- Nissan, Toyota, Honda, etc. based primarily in the South.
  • Enforce equivalent work rules of these manufacturers elsewhere in the U.S.

Although the description at the time by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Big Three employees make $73 an hour is misleading (because legacy costs of retirees are included), Detroit workers do make significantly more than their counterparts in the South at Japanese-owned plants.

As the debate about labor concessions and benefits demonstrates, the South differs from other regions of the country, particularly on the role of unions in helping set wages and benefits, as well as the importance of the right to decide whether to join or support a union.

How important? Just ask Southerners and their senators.

Note: This posting was published originally in The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC) on Dec. 19, 2008 (page A21). It was also disseminated later on the web by NC Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.