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Regal Beloit plans to shut down its Valparaiso plant where workers have been striking since June 30 for better wages and more affordable health care. At least 160-170 workers will lose their jobs unless the company and union can salvage some type of agreement from an impasse that has lasted nearly two months.

The Wisconsin-based company told the International Association of Machinists Local 2018 that it intends to close the plant at 2300 Evans Ave. in Valparaiso, part of a 109-year-old manufacturing operation that makes bearings for helicopters and planes, including Apaches and Air Force One. 

"On Aug. 27, 2019 representatives from Regal Beloit met with IAMAW Local 2018 and a federal mediator to continue our collective bargaining negotiations," Regal Beloit Vice President-Business Development and Investor Relations Robert Cherry said. "During this session, we informed Local 2018 that after further review of the current operations in Valparaiso, we intend to discontinue our operations at this facility, exit certain products and move the remaining work to our Monticello, Indiana, plant. This was not a decision that we made lightly, and a number of factors were considered including customer orders, inventory levels and overall plant efficiency. We are committed to further discussions with the union within the collective bargaining process. We will continue to rely on our contingency plan in order to provide our customers with the highest quality products and service.”

Workers voted 99-5 to strike because of frustration with wages as low as $15 an hour and health insurance out-of-pocket maximums of up to $20,000 for a family. Lead negotiator David Gault has said the company rejected the union's proposal for 75-cent per hour raises and an out-of-pocket maximum of $15,000 for health care coverage, saying it already had made its final offer.

About 130 union workers since have been picketing outside the plant, which is located in a largely residential neighborhood on Valparaiso's north side.

The bearings manufacturing operation has a long history in Valparaiso and is even older than U.S. Steel's Gary Works. Regal Beloit, a multinational electric motors manufacturer, has only owned the former McGill Manufacturing Co. for five years.

"The city was informed today that Regal Beloit intends to relocate its Valparaiso operations on Evans Avenue to other Regal facilities. No impact is anticipated at Regal’s Lafayette Street facility," Mayor Jon Costas said. "This decision would impact approximately 110 union workers and another 50-60 nonunion management positions. As a community, we are disappointed that Regal is considering shutting down this productive facility and urge them to reconsider this unfortunate option. It is the city’s understanding that no timetable for the relocation has been established and discussions with union representatives are ongoing. We urge both sides to work earnestly toward a compromise so that work can continue without any jobs being lost. The city has been in contact with both IAM and company representatives and offered to assist, as needed."

Gault said four collective bargaining sessions were scheduled with Regal Beloit on Tuesday evening, Thursday, Sept. 6 and Sept. 9.

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Earlier this month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, tweeted out support of the striking machinists.

"Another example of corporate greed, this time from @RegalBeloitCorp," he tweeted. "This strike has gone on for over a month. Enough is enough. I stand in solidarity with these @MachinistsUnion workers in their fight for dignity and justice in the workplace."

The Valparaiso factory was formerly known as McGill Manufacturing, which once was one of Porter County's largest employers with 1,500 employees and annual sales of $50 million. It made bearings for U.S. Army tanks during World War II.

The ball and roller bearings factory was founded by James H. McGill as the Crescent Company in 1905, but it was rebranded as the McGill Manufacturing Co. five years later. It has produced bearings for an array of products such as Levolier pull chain switches, pull husks, pull sockets, switches, conduit boxes, porcelain brackets, blowtorches and lamp guards.

Emerson Electric Co. acquired McGill in 1989 and made it part of its Power Transmission Solutions group before selling it to Regal Beloit in 2014.

Congressman Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, had tried to persuade Regal Beloit to reach an agreement with the striking workers and joined them on the picket line last month.

“It has been brought to my attention that present discussions are at a standstill, and I am disheartened that contract disagreements have led members of Local Lodge 2018 to strike," he wrote in a letter to the company in July. "This situation has already left a negative impact on our local union members and their families, as well as the management of Regal Beloit. Both parties should recognize that Regal Beloit and all their employees are an important part of our Northwest Indiana community and play a crucial role in our economy. I encourage the Regal Beloit management to join the members of Local Lodge 2018 and reconvene to collectively bargain in good faith.”

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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.