Union leaders, politicians promise to fight Master Lock's decision to close Milwaukee plant
A union official says she expects to learn more Thursday from Master Lock as to why the company plans to close its large factory on the north side of Milwaukee. The expected meeting follows a rally Wednesday at which political and union leaders promised to try to keep the Master Lock plant open.
The announced closing of the Master Lock plant at 32nd and Center would take place next spring — idling about 400 employees, including about 330 members of the United Auto Workers (UAW.)
Alisha Holder makes keys and lock cylinders at the factory and says losing her job would mean losing a regular paycheck that's she's been able to count on for quite a while.
"I've been at Master Lock for 13 years. So yeah, it would be big because I'm used to doing my job. I know my job. So, it's just like—it's kind of hard," Holder told WUWM.
But, will the north side plant close?
A small group of union members walking a picket line at the rally suggested it's still an open question.
"Hey hey, ho ho, tell Master Lock not to go," they said.
And, more than a half dozen union and political leaders at the rally promised to deliver that message to the company and maybe to national politicians.
Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale told the crowd that Master Lock's parent company, Illinois-based Fortune Brands, is very profitable but still wants more profit by moving the lock component work out of the U.S.
"After 102 years of dedicated service, all highly-skilled Milwaukee workers, men and women who built Master Lock from a five employee shop, to the global brand it is today, are now being treated like expendable parts, to be discarded in the quest for higher profits. Are we going to let this stand? No! We are not!" Bloomingdale exclaimed.
Similar messages came from former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley.
Crowley told WUWM that he's not hesitant to contact the Biden Administration for help.
"Listen, I'm willing to go as high as possible. I mean, we're talking about good, family-sustaining jobs, right here in the heart of the city of Milwaukee, where you may not see as many good paying jobs right here. So, no matter who we need to call, who we need to bring to the table, it's important we focus on bringing these jobs right here," Crowley said.
UW-Milwaukee Economics Professor John Heywood says he wants the Master Lock jobs to stay. He says he understands politicians and union leaders trying to change the views of corporate executives. But Heywood says it's tough to succeed.
"Yes, there are some examples, but it won't be common for Master Lock to suddenly say, 'OK, we made a mistake. We're changing our mind,'" Heywood told WUWM.
For one thing, Heywood says Master Lock is presumably relying on the bottom line.
"They say they're interested in relying more on external suppliers that they think will be cheaper. So, to the extent that they have motivation like that, there may be little the Milwaukee workers can do. But we'll see," Heywood says.
Heywood says there are examples of unions making concessions to keep a plant open.
Master Lock incoming union president Yolanda Nathan says it's hard to discuss giving up anything after the current contract expires next year, when she doesn't know what the company wants.
"We don't know. No one is telling us anything. All they told us is they can save $75 million per month if they abandon us," Nathan said.
Nathan says she'll be asking for details when she and other UAW representatives sit down with company leaders at a meeting she says she expects to be held Thursday.