It’s not every day that two locals from two different states help secure a new business contract for their employers – and one that leads to increased membership – but that’s what happened for Chelsea, Mass., Local 1499 and Milwaukee, Wis., Local 2150. And it’s in part because of the Code of Excellence.
|Milwaukee, Wis., Local 2150 members, pictured, work on transformers at the SPX plant in Waukesha. Thanks in part to the Code of Excellence they are now working with high-quality wire made by fellow IBEW members from Chelsea, Mass., Local 1499.
“Never. That’s how often this happens,” said Local 2150 Business Representative Mike Bruening.
“It’s precedent setting,” said Second District International Representative John Horak, who was business manager for Local 1499 during the talks.
The conversation started about a year ago, just two years after Local 1499 members ratified their first contract with Rea Magnet Wire Co. Chief Steward Doug Ammann saw that Rea used to supply wire to SPX-Waukesha in Wisconsin, a transformer plant. Ammann, who is regularly involved with orders, asked Horak, who then reached out to someone he knew there: Bruening. They both serve on the Code of Excellence product identification committee.
Bruening said that if Rea was a Code of Excellence certified plant, it would make securing a new deal easier. The Code was rolled out at SPX around 2011 to great reception from both members and management. Since implementation, SPX decided to invest more than $70 million at the Waukesha plant and bring on more employees, increasing membership from less than 300 to about 430, Bruening said.
“Management really likes the Code and it was definitely a factor in the expansion,” said Bruening. “I figured if Rea was Code-certified, I could use it as a selling point and assure them they’d get a quality product.”
“It’s the mark of quality,” Horak said. “There’s an assurance that you’re getting something you can rely on. It’s good branding.”
The success of the Code had also allowed Bruening to establish a solid relationship with members of the management team, he said, which made pitching Rea as a new supplier possible.
“With the Code, it’s more of a partnership with management,” Bruening said. “It’s a better relationship.”
SPX management agreed to start ordering small amounts of the wire, to test the quality. The high-voltage substation transformer plant, one of the largest in North America, had been purchasing wire from Korea and it was causing problems, which was costing the company money. Employees were having issues with coils and insulation, and portions not being wrapped correctly, Bruening said.
“There are times when faulty wiring costs us $10,000, if not more,” Bruening said. “Good quality wire conductors are critical.”
SPX soon learned that the wire from Rea was the quality product it was looking for. With Rea wire, failures went down and productivity went up, Bruening said.
“It’s the premium of the premium,” he said. “Our guys said it’s the best they’ve ever worked with.”
And Bruening says they loved hearing that it was built by fellow IBEW members.
“When we told them at a meeting that it was coming from a sister IBEW shop, they all smiled,” Bruening said.
The relationship didn’t just give Rea a new customer, or SPX a better quality product. Once SPX started increasing their orders, Rea had to upgrade some of its equipment, about nearly $5 million worth. And they did so at the plant in Guilford, Conn., where Local 1499 members work, and decided to close down a nonunion plant in Arkansas, Horak said.
The general manager also reached out to Horak about going into negotiations a year early to secure a contract for four additional years. Rea would be increasing output by 30 percent and hiring more employees, Horak said.
“This doesn’t happen every day,” Horak said. “For 1499, it was a win when we implemented the Code, but getting the extra business and members, that makes it even better.”
Local 1499 has increased its membership at Rea by 50 percent since hiring began, Horak said, and the plant is still hiring.
Horak and Bruening also said the Code is an excellent internal organizing tool.
“It brings everyone together,” Bruening said. “And we’re seeing positive results with management.”
“We’re helping these businesses succeed beyond what they expected, and it’s great to be a part of that,” Horak said. “That’s something we can all take pride in.”