The Electrical Worker online
June 2014

Blueprint for Manufacturing Success
IBEW Joins Fight Against
Counterfeit Electrical Equipment

index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

Counterfeiting. It's a crime as old as money itself. In Colonial America, currency sometimes carried the warning, "to counterfeit is death." The death sentence no longer is in effect for passing fake currency. But serious injury or death could still be the penalty for IBEW electricians and others who inadvertently install or depend upon counterfeit circuit breakers and other electrical equipment.

The flow of cheap electrical equipment knockoffs, mostly from China, is spiraling. In 2013, more than $270 million worth of consumer safety and critical technology was seized by U.S. Customs and Border Control, an 85 percent increase from 2012. This is the third year in a row this has increased by more than half.

The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition projects that nearly $2 trillion in counterfeit and pirated goods will be trafficked globally in 2015, costing the electrical products industry $600 billion annually. Experts estimate that 750,000 jobs are lost every year worldwide because of counterfeiting. And some of them are IBEW manufacturing jobs.

Counterfeit products look exactly like the real products but are made with inferior materials, inaccurate manufacturing processes and without functional or safety testing. They are part of a growing "gray market," undermining responsible producers and employers in a number of North American industries.

Eaton Corporation, a manufacturer of electrical, hydraulic and mechanical products, is taking a leading role in sounding the alarm about the growing dangers of counterfeit items. They include faulty circuit breakers that can lead to overheated and short circuits, resulting in fires, shocks or explosions.

The company's efforts are being applauded by International President Edwin D. Hill, who says Eaton's clarion call will not only protect electricians, but also the jobs of 300 members of Beaver Local 201 who manufacture circuit breakers in Western Pennsylvania.

"There is no better time than now, when the IBEW is launching a major effort to promote products made by our members, to join Eaton's call to protect our nation and members of our trades from the unconscionable fraud of the counterfeiters," Hill says.

Eaton's campaign, entitled "I Didn't Know" (it was Counterfeit), aims to provide each individual along the supply chain for electrical devices with knowledge and tools needed to avoid and detect counterfeit electrical products.

A full-page ad in trade magazines touting the effort warns that companies could be financially responsible for damage suffered from products purchased from unauthorized sources.

Counterfeiters prey on recognized brands with high volume and relatively low costs competing in markets for items such as control relays for industrial equipment, receptacles, ground fault circuit interrupters, power strips, surge suppressors, power cords and circuit breakers.

"Stopping the sale of counterfeit products is everyone's responsibility — manufacturers, distributors, resellers and customers alike," said Tom Grace, Eaton brand protection manager.

"We're fighting to keep a vibrant manufacturing plant in Beaver. We're competing for our product lines with brother and sister plants," says Local 201 Business Manager Eric Hoover. "We can't tolerate counterfeit products that threaten the jobs of members of IBEW Local 201."

Many of the circuit breakers produced in Eaton's Beaver plant end up in the coal mining industry. "Regulation and legislation have led to job elimination in our market for mining products," says Hoover, whose local represents members in 14 job classifications from assemblers to testers and group leaders.

"The counterfeiting is very visible in underground coal mining. Every counterfeit breaker installed in coal mines jeopardizes the lives of coal miners and the electricians who install the switch gear. And every counterfeit breaker jeopardizes the jobs of my members."

Wary of theft, Eaton refuses to share proprietary information on its manufacturing processes and has worked with the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration to combat counterfeit products. In one case, Eaton collaborated with MSHA, the FBI and the United States Attorney's Office for West Virginia's Southern District to successfully prosecute a mining repair shop owner for federal counterfeiting violations. The owner was sentenced to a term of probation for three years and will be ordered to pay Eaton restitution.

Eaton has set up exhibits and led educational sessions on counterfeiting at trade shows, including some sponsored by the National Electrical Contractors Association. "The best deterrent against counterfeiting is awareness," says Grace.

Eaton's campaign melds well with IBEW's priorities. At the 38th IBEW Convention in Vancouver, delegates voted unanimously to support a campaign to promote products manufactured by IBEW members.

Hoover, who helped develop the IBEW-Made program ( introduced at the IBEW's Broadcasting, Manufacturing and Telecommunications Conference in April, says the product identification program will protect the jobs of IBEW members in manufacturing.

When combined with the Code of Excellence, the market share of IBEW-represented manufacturers will grow, resulting in more profits for IBEW employers and more local union members.

"It is not only about keeping our members in manufacturing working. It's about protecting the safety of consumers and workers from substandard products that flood our economy from the 'gray,' counterfeit market," he says.

"Knowing a safety device such as a circuit breaker was manufactured and tested in an authorized facility, keeps IBEW electricians safe. Counterfeiting electrical products creates grave dangers for electricians in the field," says Hoover.

"Everyone knows how common knockoffs are in handbags and watches," Grace says. "But when you're dealing with circuit breakers, we are talking about real safety risk." Deception is heightened when counterfeiters stamp their products with fraudulent third-party testing labels.

Eaton executives say counterfeiting has been a problem for responsible manufacturers for more than 20 years. But the rip-offs are now getting more recognition as the problem proliferates across industries. Pfizer Pharmaceuticals estimates that since 2004, the company has prevented almost 65 million doses of counterfeit medicines from reaching patients.

"We are trying to get people away from the mindset that if a product looks the same, it performs the same," says Paul Cole, Eaton's manufacturing manager at the Beaver plant. Cole also oversees the company's breaker service centers in Beckley, W.Va. and Evansville, Ky.

Eaton stresses the need for contractors to turn to original equipment manufacturers or authorized distributors and resellers for purchase, service and repair of all electrical products and to notify manufacturers if they have any questions about a product's authenticity. And the company is also lobbying for legislation that will help deter counterfeiting.

Supplementing the company's public relations campaign, Eaton and other manufacturers are employing new technologies to authenticate their products, including covert laser markings, unique moldings, cartons and special serial numbers that can trace products through their complete life cycle. Having the right product in stock when the customer needs it is another critical piece of the company's strategy, says Grace.

Numerous coalitions and organizations representing manufacturers and law enforcement agencies from more than 60 nations are focused on stemming the tide of counterfeit products.


Read Introduction: Blueprint for Manufacturing Success Counterfeit crackdown

Read More: IBEW-Made Website IBEW-Made Website

Read More: Small chips, Big Jobs in N.Y. Small Chips

Read More: Wis. Manufacturing Success Wis. Manufacturing Success

Organizations Fighting Counterfeiting

Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network

CACP – Coalition Against
Counterfeiting and Piracy

Counterfeit Kills –
Don't Electrocute Your Customer

CSA International

Electro Federation of Canada

ESFi – Electrical Safety
Foundation International

International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition

NEMA – Anti-Counterfeiting

Anti-Counterfeiting Operations