At the end of February 2007, Camillus Cutlery (Camillus, NY) closed its doors for the last time. The knife manufacturer, in business since 1876, was known for its pocket knives, but also made Boy Scout utility knives, Western knives, and military/tactical fighting knives. The company remained in its original location, on the banks of Nine Mile Creek, for all the years of its existence. Many of the workers at the facility were long-time employees, and some were third or fourth generation employees.
Although readers of the local paper in Camillus were aware of the company’s troubles, Internet surfers looking for the company’s website (www.camillusknives.com) are greeted only with the news that the site has been closed. The last listing of the site in the web archives is May 23, 2006, just days after the company’s workers walked out on strike to protest proposed drastic decreases in wages and health benefits. Camillus workers, members of the United Steelworkers, remained on strike from May through November 2006, before finally reaching agreement with the company on a new contract. Shortly thereafter, Camillus Cutlery announced sizeable layoffs, and within a few months the company had closed.
Is there a lesson in the closing of Camillus Cutlery, and if so, what is that lesson? Is it that American-made products cannot compete on price with products made elsewhere? Can financially troubled companies talk openly and honestly with workers about needed concessions? When unions are negotiating contracts with financially troubled companies, how can they support the company without sacrificing the quality of life of their members?
According to the USW website, there had not been a strike at the facility since 1952. I do not know whether the labor-management conflicts arose from approaches or decisions taken by the new management, or whether the economic realities facing the company made new salary and benefit conditions inevitable.
In any case, I am sad at the loss of a venerable old company that made quality products, sad that the sacrifice of the striking workers seemed only to hasten the demise of their employer. There must be a better way.
[For a while, at least, read more about the history of Camillus Cutlery]