Milwaukee’s old manufacturing base at Rockwell takes another body blow

I asked one of the servers at Transfer Pizzeria, “Did you hear about the electrical workers at Rockwell?”

“No,” she said. “What’s up?”

“They got laid off.”

“Oh. That explains why I haven’t seen them in about a month. They used to come in here once a week. They were a great crowd…”

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We have a print of the beautiful painting from 1901 that declares “Milwaukee Feeds and Supplies the World.” That was the case in the early twentieth century, when so many manufactured goods were built in and shipped from Milwaukee. With deindustrialization hitting the city and much of the upper Midwest hard in the second half of the century, many of those well-paid manufacturing jobs went south, and then overseas. Sometimes, as in the case of the Rockwell electrical workers, they’re just replaced by lower-paid contractors.

The above conversation at Transfer happened about a month ago, and it’s curious to see it confirmed at last. Journal Sentinel has a story saying that “About 140 union members at Rockwell Automation facing layoffs Aug. 1 voted Sunday to accept a final agreement from the company that includes full pension and medical benefits.”

“Last month Local 1111 of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America was told that the company planned to outsource all remaining service and maintenance work starting Aug. 1.”

It’s a sad, quiet note on the end of one of  Milwaukee’s last industrial titans. Of course, thanks to Mayor Barrett, we have new industry coming to Milwaukee, in the form of the Spanish renewable energy firm Ingeteam, which makes wind turbines, and the Spanish train-making company Talgo. And we have great innovations of a totally different sort stemming from Will Allen’s work at Growing Power, which are reflected and refined at Sweet Water Organics, and even at the numerous community gardens springing up around town. This is what happens when your government is focused on growth, rather than trying to strange itself. Granted, this is not the same sort of industry that pushed Milwaukee close to being a city of three quarter-million people in 1960. But then, it can’t be. That said, I have seen a steady renewal in Milwaukee in the recent years that I’ve been here. It’s great thing to be a part of.

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.