In May, Regal Beloit America plans to permanently close a helicopter bearing factory that's been a major employer in Valparaiso for more than a century after workers went on strike last summer.
The Wisconsin-based company warned the state of Indiana in Workers Adjustment Notification Act, or WARN notice, that will lay off all 86 remaining employees at the long-running aircraft bearing plant at 2300 Evans Ave. when operations cease around May 31. The first layoffs will begin around Nov. 9, when the plant closing will start.
Regal Beloit warned the Indiana Department of Workforce Development it plans to lay off six more employees on Nov. 27, another eight on Dec. 30, and one more on Feb. 26. The bulk of the layoffs — 67 in total — will take place around May 31.
About 62 of the affected employees are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who went on strike for about three months last year for higher wages and better health care benefits with lower out-of-pocket costs. The union said the company refused to make concessions and ultimately decided to shut the factory down, drawing criticism from presidential candidates including Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who tweeted he was "deeply disappointed that Regal Beloit chose to close its doors and lay off over 150 workers instead of finding a resolution" and that "every worker deserves good wages, affordable health care, and strong workplace protections."
Regal Beloit bought the former McGill Manufacturing plant in 2014. The company dates back to 1905 and has made a wide variety of products over the years, including golf clubs, Levolier pull chain switches, wire guards for lamps, socket components, and coloring fluid for incandescent light bulbs, even producing bearings for U.S. Army tanks to support the war effort during World War II.
It once employed more than 1,500 workers, making it one of Porter County's largest employers. It fell out of local control in 1990 when it was acquired by Emerson in 1990 and made the headquarters of Emerson Power Transmission Division.
More recently, the factory provided bearings to companies like Sikorsky Aircraft and Bell Helicopter that make civilian and military helicopters, including Apaches for the U.S. Army, as well as planes like Air Force One.
Workers at the plant voted overwhelming to go on strike last year, after expressing dissatisfaction with wages as low as $15 and out-of-pocket health care expenses as high as $20,000 a year for a family. Some employees have worked there for decades.
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.