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Felton gives employees credit for award

MURFREESBORO – Time after time Thursday afternoon, Metal Tech of Murfreesboro owner Ray Felton told the approximately 200 people who gathered to celebrate the firm’s North Carolina Department of Labor’s STAR award that accolades for that award should be directed not to him, but to Metal Tech’s employees including those laid off earlier this year due to the slowdown in the economy.

The STAR program sees management, labor and the state’s Office of Safety and Health working together to establish a strong safety and health program at a facility.

Many of those laid off earlier in the year were present for the ceremony and were wearing the dark green STAR shirts current employees were wearing. Of them, Felton said, “They were victims of the times. And I still consider them members of my Metal Tech family.”

“Don’t offer your congratulations to me,” Felton said from the podium on a stage erected in the plant’s large meeting room. “I just held the steering wheel. Offer your congratulations to the others wearing these Carolina STAR shirts here today. They’re the engines whose hard work got us here.”

Felton noted early in the program that many of the plant’s employees were not present because they were in Chesapeake on a job.

“That’s good news,” he said. “That’s real good news!”

“But,” he went on, “those employees share as much credit as those who are here.”

Present for the ceremony were Felton’s 88-year-old mother and his twin sister, both of whom he recognized during the program.

North Carolina Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, in Murfreesboro for the celebration, told the Metal Tech employees in the crowd, “You’re very special people. You’ve set the bar way up here,” as she held her right hand high.

Introducing the Commissioner, Felton said, “She does this job because she believes in the people of North Carolina and she believes they can work safer… She is committed to her job. She believes in what she’s doing and she believes in doing it right.”

Berry said the STAR designation is more difficult to attain than the federal OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) status. It denotes, she said, commitment to safety by management and involvement by employees.

The labor commissioner also spoke of the economy, saying she is tired of hearing about how bad it is. “I know all that,” she said. “I don’t need to be pounded over the head with it.”

“But I also know the heart and soul of the people of North Carolina,” she went on, “and I know that’s what’s going to get us back on track.

“We may not all be in the same boat, but we’re all in the same storm.”

In his introduction, Felton had noted that Berry is one of only two Republicans on the North Carolina cabinet and mentioned that the Charlotte Observer had been less than complimentary toward her.

Making reference to that in her own remarks, Berry said, “They called me the fox guarding the hen house.”

“I live with my sister,” she said, “and when I saw that in my paper, I called her over and showed it to her. I told her, ‘At my age, I love it when anybody calls me a fox.’”

Also speaking at the event was Rebecca Israel, North Carolina STAR Evaluation Committee team leader.

“This has been unreal,” said Israel. “You guys ROCK!”

She said she had, earlier in the week, heard Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who, after a bird strike disabled his airliner, landed it in the Hudson River without any passenger suffering serious injury.

“They asked him, ‘How did you do it?’” she recalled, “He said, ‘We relied on each other.’”

“Wow!” said Israel. “Think about that for a minute.”

She likened the commitment to safety to that reliance on “the members of your team.”

As she closed, Israel told the Metal Tech employees in the crowd, “I am so proud of you!”

The presentation by Commissioner Berry of a plaque and the official Carolina STAR flag to Felton concluded the ceremony. Upon accepting the flag, Felton immediately – even before the conclusion of the program – asked employees to take it outside and see that it was flying.

Also on the podium and speaking early in the program was Josh Eure, a Metal Tech employee who serves as Metal Tech Safety Team chairman.