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20 Better Places to Work

Nobody is perfect, not even those companies that get high ratings from the socially responsible business sector. But it's clear that some are better than others in the way they balance the bottom line with their responsibilities to employees and their communities. In creating a list of the top 20 of these companies, journalist Milton Moskowitz does a balancing act of his own, weighing their track records in charitable giving, fair labor practices, progressive benefits, sound environmental practices, and, last but not least, satisfied employees.

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The Allstate Corp. Northbrook, Ill. Employees: 49,100. Founded: 1931. Sales: $24.2 billion (1996). Publicly owned. The insurance company has been actively working to improve coverage in low-income neighborhoods after complaints about discrimination. In the past 10 years the percentage of female and minority officers has shot up, and more than half the employees are women. Opened a new on-site childcare center at headquarters.

Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. Waterbury, Vt. Employees: 700. Founded: 1978. Sales: $167.2 million (1996). Publicly owned. The ice cream maker insists on a double bottom line: financial and social performance. Targets 7.5 percent of pretax earnings to charity; supports affordable housing for low-income families; and composts factory waste. Known for innovative approaches (conducting a write-in campaign for CEO) but came under fire for acting like the corporate bullies it once criticized and raising its cap on CEO earnings. Employees get free pints of ice cream.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Boston, Mass. Employees: 8,535. Founded: 1915; merged with Deaconess in 1996. Privately owned. Beth Israel was the first organization outside the manufacturing sector to embrace the Scanlon gainsharing plan, under which employee teams submit ideas for improvement and share monetarily in productivity gains. Nurses take responsibility for overall patient care. On-site childcare center.

Donnelly Corp. Holland, Mich. Employees: 5,000. Founded: 1905. Sales: $439.6 million (1996). Publicly owned. The maker of rearview mirrors and windows for cars is organized along the lines of a representative government, giving power to employees who share in the rewards through the Scanlon gainsharing plan (see Beth Israel, above). Donnelly retrains workers whose jobs have been automated.

Federal Express Corp. Memphis, Tenn. Employees: 127,000. Founded: 1971. Sales: $10.3 billion (1996). Publicly owned. The workforce of the world's largest all-cargo airline has expanded from 84,000 to 127,000 in the past five years. While FedEx has been mired in a dispute with pilots and has been accused of using lobbying muscle to influence federal regulations, it also has the strongest maltreatment process in American business. Employees with complaints are guaranteed fair treatment: If their issue goes to company trial, they get to choose three of the five jurors.

Fel-Pro Inc. Skokie, Ill. Employees: 2,300. Founded: 1918. Sales: $350 million (1996). Privately owned. Gasket maker has benefits that just won't quit. Employees' newborns get $1,000 savings bonds; school-age kids get practically free tutoring; and college-bound offspring get a hefty scholarship. The company gives away more than 5 percent of pretax earnings. Plus: low-cost, on-site childcare and free income tax preparation.

Herman Miller Inc. Zeeland, Mich. Employees: 6,984. Founded: 1923. Sales: $1.3 billion (1996). Publicly owned. The value-driven furniture maker that invented the office cubicle places a high priority on its employees. Admitted to handling recent layoffs poorly and replaced top managers. The company will only use tropical woods that come from sustained-yield forests (i.e., no Honduran mahogany) and insists that all facilities devote 50 percent of land to green space.

Hewlett-Packard Co. Palo Alto, Calif. Employees: 112,800. Founded: 1939. Sales: $38.4 billion (1996). Publicly owned. As the godfather of Silicon Valley, H-P set the tone for the high-tech industry's progressive employee policies -- with flexible schedules, casual dress, openness to employee dissent, and a commitment to advancing women.

IBM Armonk, N.Y. Employees: 240,615. Founded: 1911. Sales: $76 billion (1996). Publicly owned. No. 1 crusader in the business world for establishment of programs that help workers balance family and career responsibilities, including flexible work hours, leaves of absence, childcare and elder-care referral services, and financial planning. Owns Lotus, long the social responsibility leader in the computer industry.

Johnson & Johnson New Brunswick, N.J. Employees: 89,300. Founded: 1886. Sales: $21.6 billion (1996). Publicly owned. Widely admired for doing the right thing, as dictated by its "Credo," a formal statement of responsibilities to customers, employees, community, and shareholders -- in that order. Biggest corporate supporter of Head Start programs. Has four childcare centers operating at different sites. Fitness centers at every site.

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