With the proliferation of so-called free trade agreements and the opening of new markets in a global economy, outsourcing has been the manufacturer’s trick of choice to help keep production costs low and profits higher. But a race to the bottom in terms of wages and benefits doesn’t just hurt U.S. workers. Employers are beginning to realize that domestic union labor can actually provide more bang for their buck.
Some companies are starting to bring back work from other countries. Milwaukee’s own Master Lock has brought back production work from China and is now running its floor at full capacity for the first time in 15 years.
“First and foremost, it’s about quality,” says Mike Bink, recording secretary of the UAW Local 469. “We’ve always been able to compete. We’ve got lots of quality in the skilled trades and it reflects in our product.”
Bink (pictured), a tool room machinist, has worked at Master Lock since 1979. He has seen work shift to China and Mexico in the late 1990s and subsequently seen the U.S. workforce shrink from more than a 1,300 employees to less than 300 in the late 2000s. Assembly work went to Mexico and some production work went to China.
But in 2010, work performed in China started shifting back to the Milwaukee plant. There are currently 337 union employees at Master Lock, and that number should grow as the company adds new equipment to increase capacity and adds another shift to make cylinder and key components for their famously indestructible locks.
“There are a lot of bad things one could say about what happened in the past, but we’re here now and we’re growing,” Bink says. “It’s a credit to the company and the union that there’s a commitment to a presence in Milwaukee.”
Now that presence is growing again, and it is a great example of how responsible companies can partner with their workforce and take the high road towards prosperity.