ZEELAND, Mich. - Office furniture giant Herman Miller CEO Andi Owen says her company is struggling to attract talented workers because its home state of Michigan lacks civil protections for LGBTQ people.
 
In a conversation Michigan Radio's Lester Graham, Owen said some potential employees have voiced worry about the lack of non-discrimination protections in the state of Michigan.
 
Herman Miller CEO Andi Owen
“If we are not inclusive, we will not be competitive, and we won’t have the talent we need to move forward,” Owen said.
 
"When you are coming to our state in order to be competitive as an LGBTQ person, you need to feel safe - that you'll be able to eat where you want, that you'll be able to have a house where you want," she said. "I can't guarantee that once that employee that comes to work at Herman Miller leaves, they have the same protections outside of the workplace."
 
Owen said having statewide civil protections for LGBTQ people is not only the right thing to do, but it also is a smart business move. A bill is currently passing through state legistlature that would provide these civil protections. 
 
Graham then spoke with Republican county commissioner Lee Drolet, an opponent of the new bill. Drolet, who is gay, said in the conversation he doesn't believe legal protection from discrimination is necessary. He said it is extremely uncommon for employers to turn people away because of their sexual orientation. The government should allow businesses to make their own decisions, he said. Listen to the conversations here.
 
Herman Miller does seem to be finding it difficult to find workers. On January 7, the company offered $2,000 signing bonuses at a hiring event. It sought nearly all manufacturing-related positions at its Holland, Michigan plant.
 
The hiring bonuses come at a time when many woodworking businesses are having trouble finding workers. At a recent Wood Products Manufacturers Association (WPMA) meeting in Nashville, nearly all attendees named an inability to find workers as a chief industry issue.
 
Low unemployment rates, rural shop locations, and millennial lack of interest and work ethic seem to be primary reasons, according to WPMA members.
 
Leon Osborne, of Georgia-based Osborne Wood Products, says Osborne is choosing to be less selective when hiring workers. Ex-cons and other previously barred candidates are being considered for hire. The company is also being more flexible with younger employees - granting them more accommodating schedules so long as they get the job done.
 
Other firms are offering younger workers incentives to work, including paying a portion of their college tuition. One attendee said his shop allows a young worker to leave the shop early certain days to play in a baseball league.
 
Others are hiring them only for specific roles, like marketing and social media. 
 
What do you think about requiring civil protections? Would it make finding workers easier? What is your company doing to cope with the labor shortage? Let us know in the comments.
 

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