COLUMBUS, Ohio—As Thomas Elder sees it, Liberty Tire Recycling's employees may do a lot of hard work, but they should never have to do thankless work.
"I've always gone off the motto of, if my son or daughter worked here, how would I want them to be treated?" said Elder, who oversees about 80 employees at Liberty's Columbus facility. "We're as close to family at work as we are to their families at home and, unfortunately, we spend more time at work than home.
"We want them to know we're here if they ever need anything."
That's not just talk, he said. Liberty starts every morning with a safety talk. Managers plan employee cookouts, buy breakfast and give out gift cards. Recently, one of Liberty's employees was moving into his first apartment and Elder said he bought him a big-screen TV along with some household items.
"We try to let them know they're not in it alone," he said. "I wouldn't say we're the definition of a second-chance employer, but we don't care what you've done in the past. As long as you show up and do a hard day's work, you're more than welcome to come back the next day."
Pittsburgh-based Liberty Tire, which handles more than 190 million tires each year, has been a major player in tire recycling since its inception in 2000. The company has grown to include more than 25 processing plants and a nationwide collection network.
"We have about 80 employees (in Columbus) and without each one of them, there's a hiccup," he said. "Every employee is a key part of the wheel and we definitely feel it when one is out.
"One day, we were short-handed and I watched the dynamic between a few of our employees and how they worked and communicated with each other and I was kind of taken aback. It made me even more appreciative. They knew what to do without me having to tell them."
Consequently, Elder went and bought some gift cards, passed them out and said, "Take yourselves and your spouses out to dinner."
"We try to always recognize it when we see guys go above and beyond expectations," he said.
One employee, in particular, stands out: Jesse Hayes.
If there's a definition of an Unsung Hero, Hayes is it, Elder said.
"Jesse's one of those first-in, last-out guys," Elder said. "He puts in a tremendous amount of hours. There have been weeks where he's put in 65, 70 hours. If something's not right, he doesn't stop until it's fixed. He is a true leader when it comes to making sure his guys are doing things safely and that the plant is in good shape."
But, Elder said, he doesn't just do a lot of work. He does a lot of great work.
"His skill at what he does … I'd challenge anybody at any facility to find someone better than Jesse," he said. "He's not deemed a master welder, but he's built 80 percent of the conveyance in our facility, then he goes to other sites and helps them.
"He's just an overall true team player. Without him at our facility, we'd be in deep, deep trouble."