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Coralville Rockwell Collins plant getting work back from Mexico

Dave DeWitte, CR Gazette –

The Rockwell Collins Coralville plant has gotten back some production work on in-flight entertainment electronics that the company previously moved to Mexico.

Production of circuit boards for in-flight entertainment systems has been moved to the Coralville plant from a plant in Mexicali, Mexico, according to International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1634. It will preserve about 16 union jobs in a plant that’s been shedding workers because of cutbacks in federal military spending.

The union worked with the company to get the production back from Mexico, where it said workers receive less than $2 an hour to assemble materials for commercial airliners.

Union leaders at the plant approved a side agreement to the union’s contract with Rockwell Collins that allows existing workers to transition into the production jobs.

“We can’t compete with those low wages,” Local 1634 Business Manager Dan Barr said in prepared remarks. “But we have the expertise and flexibility in our work force, and we have the track record of doing it better.”

The union said Rockwell Collins had shifted production of some aircraft electronics to Mexico more than a decade ago, but production hit snags.

“The know-how wasn’t there and they evidently needed a lot of supervision,” Barr said.

The 25-year-old Coralville plant has been through three rounds of layoffs in the last three years, according to Local 1634 Vice President Chuck Holder. He said IBEW Local 1634 was able to minimize future workforce reductions by working with the company to improve production. He said workers on the line will make as much as $30 per hour with benefits.

“We even beat out competition from a non-union plant in Florida that Rockwell Collins was looking at,” Barr said. “Basically, we did everything we could to really prove ourselves.”

Work on the in-flight entertainment circuit boards has already begun moving to the Coralville plant. Installation of new machines for production automation is expected to conclude this summer.

Barr said the union’s first priority was to mitigate layoffs. He said the union’s long-term goal is to get back to growing Local 1634’s work force, in part by bringing in more commercial product lines to offset the defense work that is declining.

Rockwell Collins said in a prepared statement that “While we have been pleased with the overall performance of our Mexicali operations, the move allowed us to consolidate operations and better use our Coralville facility.”

No jobs at the Mexicali plant were eliminated as a result of the production shift because the affected workers could be moved to other positions, Rockwell Collins spokeswoman Pam Tvrdy said. She said Mexicali will continue to remain among Rockwell Collins’ key manufacturing locations as the company continues to “optimize” operations.

“Offshoring” of American jobs has been a trend over the last several decades, but rising wages in places like China and in the low-wage non-union work force of many southern states have narrowed the cost advantage they enjoyed in the past, and distribution costs from China are also rising, according to the union.

The IBEW supports improving wages and benefits in other places by organizing unions in other regions and countries.

“That’s what it boils down to,” Barr said. “It’s up to us to show not just the workers, but the companies, what they’re missing in terms of getting higher quality products for fair pay.”

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