Regal Beloit and a union local reached an agreement about the closing of a helicopter bearing factory that will cost about 160 to 170 workers their jobs.
The Wisconsin-based company decided to shutter the plant at 2300 Evans Ave. in Valparaiso that's part of a 109-year-old manufacturing operation after workers there went on strike for two months over low wages and high out-of-pocket health care expenses. Regal Beloit has not yet determined when the factory will close.
"No closure date has been set, as Regal is working to fulfill its obligations to customers and other stakeholders," Regal Beloit Business Development & Investor Relations Vice President Robert Cherry said. "The associates are encouraged to apply at any time for open positions at our Monticello, Indiana, or any other Regal operation."
Workers went on strike at the former McGill Manufacturing plant June 30 and then decided to end the strike in late August after Regal said it would close the plant so the two sides could resume negotiations in the hope of saving the factory. But the only agreement that was reached was on the terms of the closing.
"Regal is, unfortunately, still moving forward with closing the plant," International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers spokeswoman LaToya Egwuekwe-Smith said. "However, they have not yet said when. An effects agreement covering severance and benefits was reached with the company and approved by the membership."
Neither the company nor the union disclosed the terms of the agreement.
The bearings manufacturing operation was founded by James McGill as the Crescent Co. in 1905 and later rebranded as the McGill Manufacturing Co. It made many different products over the years, including golf clubs, Levolier pull chain switches, wire guards for lamps, socket components, coloring fluid for incandescent light bulbs, and bearings for U.S. Army tanks during World War II.
McGill Manufacturing was once one of Porter County's largest employers with 1,500 workers. It went on to build additional plans in Taiwan, El Paso, Texas, and Malden, Culver and Monticello in Indiana. It was acquired by Emerson in 1990 and made the headquarters of Emerson Power Transmission Division.
In recent years, McGill's former Valparaiso factory has served the aerospace industry, providing bearings to companies like Sikorsky Aircraft and Bell Helicopter that make civilian and military helicopters, including Apaches for the U.S. Army. It was acquired by the multinational electric motors manufacturer Regal Beloit five years ago.
Regal Beloit will keep open McGill's former Lafayette Street office in Valparaiso that includes a product return location and research and development center.
Workers at the Evans Avenue plant voted 99-5 to go on strike this summer, expressing concerns with wages as low as $15 and out-of-pocket health care expenses as high as $20,000 a year for a family. They picketed and held several rallies outside the facility for two months, and even marched outside the company's corporate headquarters in Beloit, Wisconsin.
The workers' fight for better wages and more affordable health insurance attracted national attention, including tweets of support from the Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg.