Schneider Electric strike

10-11-14 Schneider Electric Strike Kelly Lafferty Gerber | Kokomo Tribune

PERU – Local and state officials are working on a plan and a potential set of incentives to keep Schneider Electric from closing its Peru plant after the company announced it was moving all production to facilities outside the state later this year.

Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, said officials from the city, county and state have made it a top priority to brainstorm ways to keep Schneider from closing.

He said they are also talking with employees, corporate leaders and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 2069, which represents employees, to discuss ways to keep the company from leaving Peru.

Schneider Electric, which opened in the city in the early 1900s, currently employs 306 workers at its plant at 252 N. Tippecanoe St., making it one of the largest employers in Miami County.

“They’ve been a big part of the community’s and region’s economy for years,” Tidd said. “Our first priority is to keep the facility open, keep the employees employed and keep a company here that’s been in the community for over 100 years.”

But how officials can accomplish that goal is still unknown. Tidd said “everything is being explored at this particular time.”

“We hope there’s an opportunity,” he said. “There’s a significant impact on every company any time there is a closure, so is there some room to help the company’s situation that would cause them to keep the facility here?”

The company shocked employees and union leaders earlier this month with the surprise announcement that it was transferring all production from the Peru plant to its facility in Texas and one other East Coast plant. Some production will also be shifted to the company's plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

The company said the closure is in “response to competitive market dynamics and to meet the needs of Schneider Electric’s customers.” All transitions are expected to be completed by the end of the 2019.

Machinists Union International President Robert Martinez Jr. said in a release the union would fight to convince the company to remain open in Indiana. However, he said, the union would “not accept deep cuts to the wages and benefits of middle-class families.”

Tidd said local officials are now working with the Indiana Secretary of Commerce, as well as Sen. Randy Head and Rep. Ethan Manning, who both represent the city at the statehouse, on developing a plan to convince the company to reverse its decision.

Manning said in an interview Friday that he has met with union representatives and plans to speak to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation next week. He said the plan at the state level is to see how negotiations go between the company and the union before making any decisions on how to proceed.

“It’s a little bit of a wait-and-see game, but we want to have a network in place to help when we have something specific to ask for,” Manning said.

Peru Mayor Gabe Greer said in a previous interview that if the Square D facility does close, it will have a "huge impact" on the city.

In 2014, employees went on a two-week strike during contract bargaining between the company and the union, which claimed the company didn’t offer high enough pay raises for entry-level employees. The initial offer also froze pension benefits.

The strike ended after the union officials said they felt they won improvements in key areas in the new three-year contract, including a signing bonus of $1,600 and a general wage increase of 3-percent in the first year, and then a 2-percent increase in both the second and third years.

Since then, the company has implemented major layoffs at the plant, cutting about 25-percent of the workforce.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune and can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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