Saturday, February 10, 2018
City Hall, Saint Cloud, Minnesota
From all of the federal officials down to local government staff, Machinist Grand Lodge Representatives down to shop stewards, they were all there
On Saturday, February 10, dozens of people converged on St. Cloud’s City Hall building to start planning for a Saint Cloud without one of its oldest and largest workplaces, Electrolux.
Things started in a small closed meeting between Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Congressman Tom Emmer (R- MN), Mayor Dave Kleis (R) and Machinist Local 623. Representing the Machinists were Directing Business Representative, Colleen Murphy-Cooney, Communicator and Electrolux Shop Chair, Joe Baratta, Negotiating Committee member, Chad Randall, and Steward, Bashir Mohamed. Also there on behalf of Machinists were IAM Special Representative, Geny R. Ulloa, and IAM Special Representative, Tony Wickersham.
After introductions and pleasantries, we discussed the apprehensions many of our membership have. Things like our future income, retirement, health care, and what life after Electrolux could mean. We made a point to bring up several of the reasons we worked at Electrolux.
Chad brought up how he and many other members have devoted much of their adult life to Electrolux (Frigidaire and Franklin prior) but do not have enough years in to have a “30 and out” retirement.
Joe brought up how many of us work here almost exclusively for the above average healthcare and it’s extremely cheap rate. The fear of going into a new workplace and being told comparable coverage could cost several hundred dollars more a month, maybe more.
Bashir spoke of how many East-African immigrants after settling into the United States, got jobs at Electrolux and this is literally all they have ever known about the United States. They fear not finding any suitable job to replace this one with little formal education.
Colleen brought to attention the fact that Electrolux has done this three other times in Michigan, Iowa, and Quebec. How that Electrolux’s poor way of informing every one of the closure is exactly what they did prior. She gave insight on Electrolux’s past timelines, and how this one could most likely play out.
Mayor Kleis brought up how he was just in contact with Electrolux management as early as December, 2017 and he asked bluntly, “Are you closing?” He received a blatant response of, “no.” He felt both betrayed and lied to by the company. Mayor Kleis had said he gave a 100% open invitation to ask for anything and he would see if he could do it to keep any and all jobs in Saint Cloud as possible. The company only told him, “Thank you for the offer,” and he said they never asked for anything. He went on to say how he found out about the closing while on a flight. He was texted by a reporter asking for a statement on the plant closing, he responded that, “this was the first he knew of it.”
Senator Klobuchar said how she was shocked how no elected official knew of the closure until the press had already printed the story. Normally, large companies get in contact with government officials long before closures. Most companies lobby the officials early on with requests, without those requests, they’d have to close their doors. This did not happen with Electrolux in Saint Cloud.
Senator Klobuchar also said she has good relations with Swedish officials, and would speak with them to see what information she could get. Mayor Kleis added he would like to sit down with Electrolux officials from both Charlotte and Stockholm to assess what his office could do to either keep operations in Saint Cloud going or figure out plans for the property, building, and equipment after they stop production.
Congressman Emmer spoke of how he toured the factory just last summer and the company management gave no indication that they were about to close shop. He agreed with Mayor Kleis and Sen. Klobuchar that it was unusual for such a large company, who isn’t going bankrupt, to abruptly close down with little notice. Rep. Emmer was also concerned with what other regional companies rely on Electrolux business that could either announce lay-offs or close their doors as well. Mayor Kleis and Sen. Klobuchar agreed with the Congressman.
We ended the small meeting and joined the rest of those involved in the main city council chambers, downstairs.
Once downstairs, many others introduced themselves. Senator Tina Smith, along with officials from Minnesota DEED, the Saint Cloud Chamber of Commerce, Saint Cloud Technical and Community College, St. Cloud’s Minnesota Workforce Center, the US Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the US Dept. of Labor, and several other organizations interested in helping.
Everyone went around and introduced themselves, giving a brief description of their job duties and how they can help the workforce at Electrolux. We discussed everything from Saint Cloud having a current worker shortage in skilled labor, seminar courses through full bachelor degrees that might be available to the workforce through grant programs, counseling on resume building and unemployment insurance.
They gave contact information and brochures to the Machinists present so we can start to educate ourselves to educate our membership of their options in the future.
Things wrapped up after several hours of talks. We all thanked the officials for taking time out of their Saturdays to help the community out and help out the membership about to be displaced at Electrolux. Our Machinists group got back together off site to gather everything we were introduced to and plan for the coming negotiations.
IAM Local 623 Communicator,