Chris Frydenger and his colleagues at the Mueller Co. in Decatur, Illinois, began ramping up production of valves, fittings and other products used in water and gas systems soon after President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) last year.
But the shattering impact of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure program really hit Frydenger, grievance chair for United Steelworkers (USW) Local 7-838, when management reached out to the union with a unprecedented proposal.
The company has asked to reopen the local’s contract and negotiate an additional pay rise so it can hire and retain enough workers to handle the dramatic surge in orders. “Everyone in the union got a raise,” Frydenger recalls.
Historic improvements to America’s roads, bridges, airports, utilities and communications networks have generated growing demand for aluminum and steel as well as raw materials like nickel and ore and pipes, batteries , valves and other components required for thousands of infrastructure projects.
This demand, in turn, continues to create jobs to support families, put more money in the pockets of working people and uplift the middle class, just like the unions and their Democratic allies the had predicted when they pushed the legislation through Congress and onto Biden’s desk.
“This story needs to be told, for sure. It has at least doubled our business in a short period of time,” Frydenger said, noting that the local’s 408 members not only received mid-contract pay raises, but continue to enjoy all the overtime they wish.
Workers use the extra money to buy cars and appliances, renovate their homes, and support local businesses, among other things, helping to expand the IIJA’s reach to virtually every segment of the local economy.
“It’s had such an impact that in our orientations for new hires, our chief executive talks about it,” Frydenger said of the IIJA. “That’s how much of an impact it had on sales. He gives full credit to the infrastructure bill.
Billions allocated to drinking water, sewer and stormwater upgrades will allow utilities across the country to expand distribution systems, replace aging pipes, reduce runoff and tackle lead and other contaminants. And investments in natural gas infrastructure, as well as solar, wind and hydrogen power, will help the country build a more secure and reliable energy base.
National procurement requirements in the Infrastructure Act will ensure that these projects rely on products such as those produced at the Decatur plant. What makes Frydenger even happier is knowing that his union brothers and sisters up and down the supply chain also have a brighter future thanks to the infrastructure push.
A growing number of orders prompted Mueller Co. to increase its purchases of brass, a raw material in the company’s production process. About 225 members of USW Local 7248 at Wieland Chase, a brass manufacturing plant in Montpelier, Ohio, and about 50 members of USW Local 9777 at H. Kramer & Co., a foundry of brass and bronze bullion in Chicago help meet this need. .
“Orders just piled up because of rebuilding and construction,” said Local 9777 President Steve Kramer, noting that the business boom spurred by the infrastructure program has helped its members get some good raises and other gains under a recent contract with the foundry. “When orders are up and they’re under the gun, we have a bit more clout.”
” They grow up. They just hired more people,” Kramer said of the foundry’s increased business with Mueller Co., among other clients. He added that the IIJA has also boosted production and employment in many of the approximately 40 other companies represented by the USW and covered by its merged local chapter.
The Decatur plant sells products directly to customers. But it also ships some of what Frydenger and his colleagues make to other Mueller facilities, where even more USW members are enjoying the benefits of the infrastructure program.
“It just flooded our orders,” said Chad Dickerson, president of Local 00065B, which represents about 450 union members who manufacture Mueller hydrants in Albertville, Alabama, known as the “fire hydrant capital of the world. fire hydrants”.
“It’s definitely created jobs for us,” Dickerson said, adding, “We’re going to start staffing a team on the weekends.”
The increase in orders “probably added 50 jobs that we never would have had”, and Dickerson estimated the need to create up to 100 additional jobs in the coming months.
Those hydrants go to places like Groton, Connecticut, where members of Steelworkers Local 9411-00 provide water and sewer services to thousands of customers.
“The Mueller hydrant is our system-wide standard,” said Kevin Ziolkovsky, president of Local Unit 9411-00, whose Groton Utilities members serve the town of Groton and a handful of nearby communities.
Crews installed some of the hydrants in a housing plan during a recent maintenance program, he said, calling them “easy to work with” and “tough as steel”. He added that even after being hit by vehicles, an occasional occurrence, USW members only have to “change a few parts and get them back in service.”
Ziolkovsky and his colleagues look forward to using more of these hydrants and other Mueller products in infrastructure program projects that would improve customer safety and quality of life.
“Every time you upgrade the system, you reduce the possibility of water main breaks or blockages,” Ziolkovsky observed. “The quality of your water increases. Your water pressure is better.
Mueller workers have been making these premium products for approximately 150 years. With the infrastructure program, Frydenger noted, they will continue to manufacture these — as well as newer versions — for decades to come.
“We are innovating more every day,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much it fills my heart to be a part of this.”
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.