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Clothes unite the work force
More firms are using uniforms in workplace
By Jim McKinney - The Shelbyville News
Clothes can say a lot about a place of employment, and about the workers.
At many plants in Shelby County and elsewhere, employers want to get across to employees that all of them are equal and all have crucial roles when it comes to making the manufacturer's product.
Relaxing dress codes and ordering uniforms for the entire work force, including those in executive positions, have gone a long way toward breaking down the management-production worker barrier and putting all the staff at PK U.S.A. Inc. on an even keel.
Bill Kent, general manager of human resources at PK, said all employees of PK and its sister plant, Blue River Stamping, are issued six uniforms apiece each week, free of charge to the workers. The two plants have 650 employees.
"We all dress the same. We stress that we are all equal. No one has their own office," Kent said.
Ryobi Die Casting (USA) Inc. and Indiana Precision Forge L.L.C., also have dress-alike work places. Their respective human resource directors - Mike Leland at Ryobi and Jim Holtel at Precision Forge - believe that having the entire work force dressed in uniforms erases some barriers.
Knauf Fiber Glass GmbH has gone to a more casual attire, even for executives, and Indiana Cash Drawer has found that recruiting workers is not as difficult when production employees are not bound by uniforms or strict dress guidelines.
Kent said it is a requirement that uniforms be worn by all PK workers. "The program works well. When we bring visitors into the plant, they have commented often about how impressed they have been with the production workers and seeing them all in uniforms."
PK employees do have options. Uniforms are available in different styles, and with shirts and pants that are different colors. Mix-and-match combinations are allowed.
At times Kent and other employees in management have to change clothes, into what Kent calls more businesslike attire, for meetings and for dealings with potential customers. Kent said he keeps a change of clothes at the plant for such occasions.
The uniforms remain the property of the rental company, RUS Uniforms Inc. of Columbus. For 11 cents per piece or a $2 per week fee, the uniform rental firm will launder the uniforms. The fee can be handled as a payroll deduction.
Because of the volume of uniforms involved, RUS also provides PK and Blue River Stamping with a full-time uniform representative who stays at the plant and takes care of uniform mending, sizing and other problems.
PK, 600 W. Northridge Drive, makes metal stamping parts and assembles them for Isuzu, Mitsubishi and Nissan cars and small pickup trucks. Blue River Stamping, which opened last summer at 1755 McCall Drive, makes small metal stamping parts for PK.
Leland said Ryobi makes uniforms available. "We encourage our employees to wear them, but it is not mandatory. Some people prefer blue jeans, and we don't force the issue as long as they have acceptable clothes and safety shoes."
Ryobi management personnel, from company president Morris C. Rowlett on down, are attired in uniform shirts that are open at the neck and pants.
"We believe that tends to make people a little more comfortable. In the past, dress has been something of a barrier, at least for some employees. If that was the case, we have eliminated that barrier," Leland said.
Ryobi, at 800 W. Mausoleum Road, makes transmission housings for Ford Motor Co. and other auto lines.
Some workers felt less comfortable bringing either personal or work-related problems to management personnel who were dressed differently.
Precision Forge, one of the city's newest plants at 302 Northbrook Drive, also has the philosophy that uniforms break down barriers among people in the work place, Holtel said. Office workers have uniforms matching those of the production staff at the plant.
"We also did not want all the different kinds of dress codes," Holtel said, with many workers trying to wear different combinations.
Holtel added that dress-alike work places are fairly common in plants with Japanese ownership. PK, Blue River Stamping, Ryobi and Precision Forge all have major investors coming from Japan.
Knauf makes uniforms available for workers and has a dress code that allows casual dress.
Mike Lynam, human resources director for Knauf, said the office staff is encouraged to dress casually. He said the exceptions are when customers come in for meetings. "Then we wear ties and are a little dressier," Lynam said.
Knauf, 240 Elizabeth St., is a leading manufacturer of fiberglass insulation for home and commercial use and for insulation on pipes. The company employs about 800.
Paul Lock, human resources manager at Indiana Cash Drawer, 1315 S. Miller St., said Dockers and jeans are in style at the plant where wooden cash drawers are made. "Friday is dress-down day, plant-wide," Lock said.
Cash Drawer provides uniforms for employees in the paint department and makes available uniform rental for other plant workers at the expense of the employee. Lock said a few workers use uniforms.
Lock said there are times when office workers need to dress up for business meetings, but when that happens, an effort is made to notify employees. The plant employs 45 people.
The company does have a dress code policy that requires long pants, shirts or blouses that cover the shoulders and shoes that cover the entire foot. Lock said the policy primarily is for the safety of plant workers.
According to a recent poll of 900 workers reported by The Associated Press, more than half of white-collar workers can now dress casually each day. Just two years ago, that number was only 33 percent.
The error margin was 3.25 percent, plus of minus.
Levi Strauss & Co., a national manufacturer of casual wear, sponsored the survey.
With laptops, home computers and other electronic technology, more and more people are working at home and those who do go to the office have much more flexible hours.
The 8 to 5 day at the office, or even at some plants, is not the rigid rule that it once was.
Today's management philosophy is headed toward managers and employees working side by side and working with each other.
Some of the nation's giant corporations - Ford Motor Co., Proctor & Gamble, Boeing Aircraft and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, to name a few - have moved away from the stuffy shirts and ties, bringing back open-neck pullovers, cuddly cardigans and sports coats that really are sporty.
And because what once were called "work clothes" are now being worn by more people of both genders, and for longer periods of time, the entire concept behind these garments is being revolutionized, according to an Internet release from Master Made, one of the nation's fastest-growing makers of work clothes.
Innovative new fabrics are being used along with design improvements that make work clothes more versatile, stronger and longer-lasting.
Jim Lowstetter, director of marketing for Master Made, said customers should always try on clothing and take into consideration features they like in work clothes before making purchases. He said testing the fabric, versatility of the apparel and getting something that is easy to care for also are critical.
Copyright 2018 PKUSA Inc.