Lincoln, Neb., Local 2366 members have been working at Schneider Electric for the past 50 years, but the coronavirus pandemic created an opportunity for the manufacturing plant’s workers to show just how essential they really are. And it helped spur a $70 million investment by the company.
“This is a testament to the quality of work done by our IBEW members and their commitment to excellence in their work,” said 11th District Vice President Mark Hager. “The quality of the product line produced at the Lincoln facility shows what can be accomplished when there is a true partnership between the employees and employer.”
Local 2366’s 360 members produce circuit breakers for residential use as well as their component parts. They also supply other Schneider Electric facilities with molded and stamped parts.
“This work isn’t something you can do just coming off the street. It takes a certain level of experience, and Schneider recognizes that,” said IBEW Manufacturing Department Director Brian Lamm. “They could have gone anywhere, but they chose this plant because they know it’s important to make their products here. And it’s been a long time coming.”
When another plant had to shut down because of COVID-19, the Lincoln plant was there to pick up the load. It was work manually producing two pole breakers, which they could certainly do, but they needed more workers than they had. So Local 2366 leadership sat down with management to hammer out the details of how they could do so without violating any contracts.
“It’s because of the strong working relationship that we’ve built here over the years that we were able to work everything out,” said Local 2366 Business Manager Dianna O’Brien.
Schneider ended up hiring more workers, some permanent and some temporary, but with the potential of hiring those temporary workers permanently if they worked out. And most did. They got the work done, despite coronavirus-related supply chain issues, and O’Brien says that work likely put them in consideration for another product line, this one involving a new type of circuit breaker, which they also secured.
“The union and the company worked together, and it allowed our local to more than double our membership,” O’Brien said. “And we’re still hiring.”
The $70 million investment will be spent over the next five years on various machine upgrades, the replacement of some molding presses and other capital improvements. Some of the upgrades will streamline production, which will allow the plant to have more continuous operations and ultimately increase production.
“We are excited about the growth in our facility,” O’Brien said. “The investments make us feel encouraged that our membership will continue to grow, and that our members can have long careers here.”
Local 2366 members were honored for their hard work and expertise at a Manufacturing Day event in October that was attended by several legislators and IBEW leaders, as well as area college students. The annual event is put on by the Manufacturing Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers and included a tour of the plant.
“We were honored to have so many in attendance and to show off our facility,” O’Brien said. “And it was great to hear so much discussion about the bright future for manufacturing.”
Schneider’s $70 million infusion comes on the heels of a federal push to promote U.S. manufacturing, including the CHIPS and Science Act, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Biden administration’s increased Buy American provisions.
“After decades of offshoring work, manufacturing quality has been negatively affected, and the pandemic exposed those vulnerabilities,” Lamm said. “Now there’s steps being taken to address it.”
As of October, manufacturers have added 467,000 jobs, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
“President Biden’s policies have been instrumental in moving manufacturing back to the United States, and we look forward to continuing our partnership and further growth with Schneider Electric,” Hager said.