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June 2014

Blueprint for Manufacturing Success
Wis. Local Sees Manufacturing Success
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Some of the biggest items found on the new IBEW-Made website are the two-story tall transformers made by SPX Transformer Solutions Inc., formerly Waukesha Electric Systems. The transformers, which range from 2.5-2,000 megawatts, are produced by members of Milwaukee Local 2150.

The plant, located 20 miles west of Milwaukee, is one the rare success stories in the post-NAFTA manufacturing era, and it's a blueprint for how unions can play a leading role in winning back high-skilled manufacturing jobs to North America.

"Things continue to head in the right direction," said Local 2150 Business Agent Mike Bruening. The plant, owned by North Carolina-based SPX, was organized more than a decade ago by Local 2150, a tough win that had some questioning whether labor and management could work together to make the company thrive. Negotiating a first contract took more than 18 months of contentious bargaining.

But Local 2150 members helped defy the critics. While other plants have shut their doors and moved overseas, SPX has seen consistent growth and a growing market share in the power industry.

SPX Transformer Solutions owns numerous nonunion plants, but in 2010, it invested $70 million in a 140,000-square-foot expansion of the Waukesha unit. Corporate officials said that the positive relationship they had with Local 2150 was a major factor in selecting the Waukesha site for expansion. The job was completed two years ago.

Originally a unit of 320 members, Local 2150 now represents more than 400 workers at the facility.

Business Manager Michael Follett credits the IBEW's manufacturing success to the Code of Excellence and a new attitude on the part of both employers and employees.

He says that there is a willingness to work together to efficiently produce high quality products the customer expects. The Code is an agreement between managers and the IBEW to increase labor-management cooperation and professionalism in the workplace. Originally developed in the construction branch, it was adopted in manufacturing last year.

What the Code of Excellence means, says Follett, is that both sides have a stake in the company's success.

The transformer market faces strong competition from both nonunion and foreign producers, making maximizing productivity and quality vital to reviving union manufacturing.

Utilities will need Waukesha's larger transformers to transmit power across long distances, which is of particular importance as wind and solar — often generated far from distribution centers — make up a bigger and bigger share of the country's energy portfolio.

Local 2150's Bruening says the new website is a great tool to help companies like SPX Transformer Solutions promote their products to a wider audience.

Bruening served on the product identification team that helped create the site.

"Who's a better salesman than the 725,000 members of the IBEW?" he said. "There are plenty of IBEW-represented utilities who should be our customers, and IBEW-Made can help connect us."


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SPX Transformer Solutions has seen steady growth thanks in part to a strong partnership between the company and Milwaukee Local 2150.


Milwaukee Local 2150's commitment to the Code of Excellence has helped both the company and local grow in Waukesha.