A South Bend Tribune series on the use of illegal methamphetamines in the workplace that, in part, focused on the RV manufacturing plants in Elkhart County, Ind., was not well received by industry leaders throughout the area, generating a couple of pointed letters to the editor.
The six-part series by staff writer Sara Toth, starting July 18, quoted members of the Elkhart County law enforcement and legal communities who gave anecdotal evidence of the use of “meth” – also known as speed – in the RV workplace.
“Any (manufacturer) who tells you that they don’t have a drug-use problem on break and lunch is lying,” Bill Wargo, chief investigator for the Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, told the Tribune. Bolstering that assertion were several defense attorneys interviewed by the newspaper who said that a number of their clients arrested for meth use have been employed in the RV industry.
Behind the trend, the Trib story maintained, is the fact that RV industry employees are under pressure to produce on a piece-rate basis, and methamphetamines tend to enhance an individual’s energy level. Yet several major manufacturers, including Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., Forest River Inc., Damon Corp., Jayco Inc. Coachmen Industries Inc., Keystone RV Co. and Recreation by Design, told the newspaper they had never had incidents that involved meth use or dealing among their employees.
“Ludicrous” is how Gulf Stream Inc. President Brian Shea described the newspaper story’s assertion that the piece-rate system necessitates that workers must take methamphetamines to make quotas.
“To suggest that methamphetamine is more rampant among RV factory workers than other workplace environments is inaccurate and misleading,” Shea wrote in his letter to the newspaper. “Impugning … RV employees based on a few questionable opinions and limited research is shameful.”
“To have singled out one county and industry as the focus of all this criminal activity … was unfair, insensitive and lazy from a journalistic point of view,” wrote Sherman Goldenberg, publisher of California-based RV Business. “Your staff probably should have done a better job of spreading the wealth – or the blame in this case – to other cities and towns so that your readers don’t get the wrong impression and those who have worked diligently for years in the recreational vehicle sector are not unfairly sullied.”