Manufacturing Company Keeps Jobs
at Home with Union Labor
February 26, 2009
In a struggling domestic industry, Milbank Manufacturing Co., a U.S.-based producer of electrical and meter sockets, shines as a bright spot.
Three years ago, the managers at Milbank considered outsourcing a portion of its operations overseas. While their competitors took advantage of offshoring, all of Milbank’s production was based in the United States in five plants. Two are IBEW plants: one in El Dorado, Ark. is represented by Local 2284; the other, in Concordia, Mo., was organized by Local 124 in 2006 and signed its first contract in 2007. Milbank’s facilities in Kansas City, Mo., and Kokomo, Ind., are represented by the United Steelworkers and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, respectively.
Ultimately Milbank decided it could improve its procedures and become even more competitive while remaining in the U.S.
“IBEW members have contributed to Milbank’s success. They understand the company’s need to be profitable and competitive in the market,” said Tenth District International Vice President Bobby Klein.
IBEW members at Milbank have been energized through the company’s new “lean” philosophy. Since implementing a related waste reduction program three years ago, IBEW members have saved the company $12 million a year. The lean philosophy has led members at Milbank to re-evaluate the way they previously worked and make changes to the assembly process. IBEW members have been able to respond to customer’s needs more rapidly and reliably.
“You often hear about union shops and how difficult it can be to implement changes in such situations, but as people became more engaged and the union saw that we were committed to keeping jobs in the U.S., they jumped on board and now we have a fantastic relationship with them,” said Milbank Chief Executive Lavon Winkler in a recent article in a trade publication, detailing the company’s strategies to increase production and decrease waste.
In the midst of the current economic downturn, members at Milbank have agreed to 32-hour work weeks for a short period until business picks up again. “They do everything they can to make sure business remains as close to steady as possible and are always looking for new customers,” said Tenth District International Representative Dale McCoy, who services the Local 2284 members at Milbank’s El Dorado plant.
The 140 members at the Concordia, Mo., facility who reached their first contract agreement last year have created a partnership committee that includes corporate and plant management and Local 124 representatives.
“The goal is that every decision made in the plant is a result of a joint effort between the local and the management,” said B.Z. Parscale, Local 124 business representative.
“Lean helps to ensure that jobs stay in the U.S. by cutting out as much waste as possible,” said Shirl Gibson, Milbank team leader and Local 2284 financial secretary. “When there is little waste, the company is profitable and as a result the plant stays open.”
IBEW members have been flexible in dealing with changes in the processes they have used for years. “The members deserve the credit. They’ve had the ability to adapt and adjust to a new process. They have confidence that the lean process is going to improve the plant,” said Parscale.
Members are frequently given the opportunity to participate in meetings to investigate potential problems and opportunities, come up with strategies to fix them and examine ways to eliminate unnecessary steps.
“It has been a joint effort between the local and Milbank. The local has been able to sit down with Milbank management as equal partners and walk away from the table knowing that their issues have been addressed,” McCoy said.
“We’re real proud of the fact that we’ve done this while keeping jobs in the U.S. and we’ve done it with an all-union work force,” said Winkler.
Cutline: Local 2284 members Beverly Davis, left, LaTrinda Roach, Lisa Lucy and Johnique Smith work on the assembly line at the Milbank factory in El Dorado, Ark.