The A. E. Staley company was a Decatur, Illinois based processor of corn founded in 1898. It changed its name to Staley Continental in 1985. It produced a range of starch products for the food, paper and other industries, high fructose corn syrup, crystalline fructose (under the brand name Krystar), ethanol (fuel) and other agro-industrial products. A. E. Staley Manufacturing Company was the center of a controversy in 1992 when the company locked out hundreds of workers after the workers had rejected a contract amid accusations by management of destruction and tampering of company property and equipment.
Augustus Eugene Staley (25 February 1867 – 26 December 1940) founded a sales company for food starch in Baltimore in 1898. On 6 November 1906, he incorporated his starch business that he had created in Baltimore, Maryland in order to start the production of food starch. In 1909 Mr. Staley purchased an inoperative cornstarch plant in Decatur, IL. He paid $45,000 and spent three years rebuilding and upgrading the plant with capital that he had raised from stockholders. The factory began processing on March 12, 1912.
The company has produced many famous household brands including Staley Pancake and Waffle Syrup, Sta-Puf fabric softener, and Sta-Flo liquid starch. The two latter brands were subsequently sold to Dial.
A. E. Staley Manufacturing was one of the largest processors of corn in the United States, second only to the Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, also based in Decatur, Illinois. It also processed soybeans under a partnership agreement with Archer Daniels Midland at its Decatur, Illinois plant. Archer Daniels Midland, through a subsidiary, owned 7.4% of A.E. Staley and often time, Archer Daniel Midland would assist A.E. Staley with filling corn syrup order for CPC international when the company was in short supply of product. Both companies also had joint ventures producing corn sweeteners in Central America.
In 1985, A. E. Staley purchased CFS Continental, a wholesale grocery company, for $360 million. A. E. Staley stated a need to diversify away from bulk food processing. After the acquisition, A. E. Staley changed its name to Staley Continental.
In 1988, British company Tate & Lyle acquired 90% of A. E. Staley for $1.42 billion. Prior to the purchase, Tate & Lyle announced that it planned to sell CFS Continental to SYSCO, another wholesale grocer, for $700 million to help fund the acquisition. In 2000, Tate & Lyle acquired the remaining 10% of A. E. Staley.
In March of 1920 a man telephoned me ... George Chamberlain and he was general superintendent of the A.E. Staley Company ... In 1919, [the company's Fellowship Club] had formed a football team. It had done well against other local teams but Mr. Staley wanted to build it into a team that could compete successfully with the best semi-professional and industrial teams in the country ... Mr. Chamberlain asked if I would like to come to Decatur and work for the Staley Company.
Staley founded a company football team, the Decatur Staleys, in 1919. The players worked as semi-professionals in his factory. The team was a charter member of what became the National Football League in 1920. In 1921, Staley turned the team over to George Halas, who moved it to Chicago, changing the team name to the Chicago Bears a year later. The team's mascot since 2003 is Staley Da Bear.
In 1922, Gene Staley proposed a project to the city of Decatur that would create Lake Decatur, which is Illinois’ largest artificial body of water. Staley required the artificial lake in order to maintain his plant’s necessity of 19 million gallons of water a day to sustain production. Staley threatened to the Decatur City Council, if the city refused to allow the construction of the artificial lake, that he would close his plant and move it to Peoria, Illinois. Decatur allowed the company to go forward with the project, and in 1922, the construction of the 2,800 arches and a 30-mile shoreline of the artificial lake started.
On Sunday, June 27, 1993, A.E Staley officials decided to lock out A.E Staley employees who were members of the Allied Industrial Workers of America Union. The lockout incident was the result of nearly a decade of labor disputes between management and Staley’s unionized workers. The decline in pay and wages began in 1985 when A.E. Staley merged with Continental Foods, forming Staley Continental. During the next three years, the union was forced to make concessions as management was concerned about the plant remaining viable. Base pay was frozen at $10.80 per hour and workers complained of long overtime hours and declining safety conditions. After London based Tate & Lyle bought A.E. Staley in 1988, conditions got worse for the factory workers. In 1989, contract negotiations began for a new three-year contract. While the bargaining committee was hoping to end the salary freeze and improving safety standards, the company was ushering in new practices, such as rotating shifts and deskilling of jobs as well as elimination of many safety procedures. In 1991, the company hired a new labor relations director who was known for promoting union busting practices. Workers with years and decades of experience at the plant were fired and new supervisors forced workers to ignore OSHA regulations. A new attendance policy was also instituted and workers were shocked to find out that anyone with over seven absences per year would be fired and the number of allowed absences would decrease every year. A few months later, company management announced a new set of offences that were grounds for immediate termination. This list included “smoking outside of designated areas; loafing; dishonesty; sleeping on duty; insubordination; refusal to work overtime as directed; unauthorized possession of a camera; and use of abusive or threatening language.” This was a gross violation of the union contract, which states that employers cannot fire employees without having the “just cause” to do so. Due to this new regulation, more workers were fired during the next year than had been fired in the previous twenty years combined.
Considering the climate, it was no surprise that continued contract negotiations were unsuccessful. Under the guidance of Jerry Tucker, the union began to organize an in-plant “work to rule” campaign, where workers pressure management to reach a fair campaign by altering their behavior on the job, as opposed to going on strike. At Staley’s, this meant that the workers collectively decided to do only what they were told to do by their supervisor without their past knowledge and experiences. They performed only their outlined job duties and nothing extra. The goal of the work to rule campaign was to show management that the factory could not be run without the knowledge and skills of the workers. In many ways, Staley’s was the perfect environment for this type of labor tactic, as most unionized workers had acquired skills over the years that boosted overall production and quality of the product. Management and new supervisors simply did not have this knowledge and skills to effectively instruct workers. This was evidenced in the fact that over the next 11 moths during which the work to rule campaign occurred, production fell drastically. A Staley spokesperson estimated that production had fallen by 32%, but union estimates were upwards of 50%.
The New York Times reported that the decision resulting in the lockout Staley union employees were due to Staley officials claiming that workers had been sabotaging plant operations for the weeks prior to the lockout. Representatives from the Allied Industrial Workers of America, claimed that there were no reports of any employees being reprimanded for sabotage, going back nine months since the lockout.
The A.E Staley lockout would result in a two and half-year labor movement that would end in 1996. During that period, union workers fought to win back a fair contract, which would eliminate mandatory 12-hour shifts and mandatory overtime, and address safety concerns. The lockout turned into a national labor movement when union workers from two other Decatur-based companies, Caterpillar Inc. and Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, walked out on contract disputes in August 1994 and joined lockout workers from A.E Staley in protests, picketing and public demonstrations. The Staley plants were operated at full capacity by the white collar works and the union ended up giving in to company demands.