Regal Beloit workers end strike and return to work to bargain to save plant

Workers are on strike Wednesday along Evans Avenue at the Regal Beloit plant in Valparaiso.

After two months, striking Regal Beloit workers have agreed to return to work so the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2018 can bargain to try to save the 109-year-old Valparaiso factory and more than 170 jobs.

The union and Wisconsin-based company reached an agreement that 110 striking hourly workers, who hit the picket line for better pay and more affordable health care on June 30, will report back to work Tuesday so the two sides can negotiate Regal Beloit's decision to close the plant and try to maintain some work in Valparaiso.

The International Machinists Union also is appealing to the White House to intervene after Regal Beloit's announcement that it will close the longtime Valparaiso factory. The plant once made golf clubs and electrical safety products and switches, but now makes bearings for the aerospace industry, including military helicopters.

Regal Beloit made a deal to acquire the longtime community stalwart McGill Manufacturing in 2014. Workers there agreed to concessions, including mandatory overtime on weekends, during the last round of collective bargaining when the company was struggling. This time, the union had asked for 75-cent per hour raises and $15,000 out-of-pocket healthcare maximums as a starting point in negotiations and went on strike after the company said it had made its final offer, not meeting the union's demands.

The international union is now asking President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to urge the company to reconsider the closure of the plant.

“For generations, Machinists Union members have proudly worked at this facility producing parts for many vital U.S. aerospace defense programs including Apache helicopters and Air Force One,” IAM International President Bob Martinez wrote. “In return for our members’ loyalty, Regal Beloit has now decided to turn its back on these U.S. workers. These highly skilled workers have decades of experience and hold important program-specific certifications. Dismantling this workforce and similar workforces, with the intellectual and industrial capacity they represent, would be a travesty and would ultimately threaten our national security and capability to continue as a world leader.”

Martinez wrote that the job losses would ripple throughout the community, citing an Economic Policy Institute study that found every manufacturing job lost in the United States results in the loss of 7.4 jobs total.

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"That means if Regal Beloit shuts its doors on the 171 workers, an estimated 1,260 jobs will be lost in the Valparaiso region and across the supply chain," he wrote. "Regal Beloit's plan to turn its back on this community and this workforce is unconscionable and downright un-American."

After the agreement to end the strike, the union and company remain in talks.

"The collective bargaining process is still ongoing," Regal Beloit Vice President of Business Development and Investor Relations Robert Cherry said.

After the strike at the factory at 2300 Evans Ave. in Valparaiso stretched for nearly two months, Regal Beloit said last week it planned to consolidate its operations at a non-union factory in Monticello in downstate Indiana and cease operations in Valparaiso. It has given no timetable for a closing, but warned the city government of its intentions.

Valparaiso Economic Development Director Patrick Lyp said the city was urging the two sides to come together to work something out.

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden tweeted out support of the Regal Beloit workers Friday.

"I am deeply disappointed that Regal Beloit chose to close its doors and lay off over 150 workers instead of finding a resolution with the @MachinistsUnion," Biden tweeted. "Every worker deserves good wages, affordable health care, and strong workplace protections."


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.