Afterglow is still warm at Master Lock

Most of the media coverage of President Barack Obama’s recent tour of the Master Lock Company’s Milwaukee plant focused on his speech.

However, the rally that was held before Obama even walked into the room told another story that was every bit as newsworthy. It was a celebration the likes of which have not been seen much around here in a generation.

The company, its CEO and its union labor force jointly and boisterously celebrated their mutual success and good will.

On this day, Master Lock CEO John Heppner more resembled a cheerleader than a company president.

“Hey Master Lock, we did it, didn’t we?” Heppner belted out as a couple hundred of his employees screeched in glee. “It’s a big day for Master Lock. More importantly, it’s a big day for you.”

Heppner went so far as to call his employees his “peeps,” before acknowledging the pain that the company and its workforce had endured when it shifted production work to China and Mexico a few years ago and forced its remaining union workers to take steep concessions in wages and benefits.

But on this day, the company was being heralded by Obama for “insourcing,” or shifting work back to America.

“We went through hell together, didn’t we?” Heppner asked the crowd. “And back! It’s about you. You guys helped us. We worked together … Today, it’s about trust. I am thankful you are part of my team. You guys made it happen.”

Heppner shared the stage with United Auto Workers members John Drew and DiAndre Jackson, who was given the privilege of introducing Obama.

“Without UAW 469, we would not have Master Lock here in Milwaukee,” Drew declared.  “(This is) a great example of a company and a union working together.”

The corporate/labor harmony set the stage for Obama’s address and perhaps his 2012 presidential campaign.

“So when (Master Lock CEO) John Heppner was at the White House in January, he told me how it makes more business sense for Master Lock to bring jobs back home here to Milwaukee,” Obama said. “And today, for the first time in 15 years, this plant is running at full capacity. And that’s an example of what happens when unions and employers work together to create good jobs. Today, you’re selling products directly to customers in China stamped with those words:  Made In America. And the good news is this is starting to happen around the country. For the first time since 1990, American manufacturers are creating new jobs. That’s good for the companies, but it’s also good up and down the supply chain, because if you’re making this stuff here, that means that there are producers and suppliers in and around the area who have a better chance of selling stuff here. It means the restaurant close by suddenly has more customers. Everybody benefits when manufacturing is going strong.”

Heppner insisted the event was not a political statement, saying he would welcome any American president to come and recognize his employees. Heppner had invited Republican Gov. Scott Walker to attend the president’s speech at Master Lock, but Walker said he could not attend because of a stomach virus.

Walker did manage to greet Obama on the tarmac at General Mitchell International Airport before the Master Lock appearance.

“It is always an honor to have the president of the United States in Wisconsin,” Walker said. “One of Wisconsin’s core industries is manufacturing, so I appreciate the attention given to Master Lock on his visit. Wisconsin manufacturers are some of the best in the world and this helps us highlight that fact.”

Heppner said he expects additional growth and additional jobs in Milwaukee.

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