Master Lock Milwaukee plant closing; 'slap in the face,' mayor says

Master Lock's manufacturing facility in Milwaukee will begin closing this fall, the company confirmed Thursday, May 25, with operations ending in March 2024.

A union representative said the company informed workers of the decision on Wednesday.

According to a company statement, the plant near 32nd and Center will end operations in March 2024. Production will move to other North American and global manufacturing sites, with things in Milwaukee ramping down in October 2023.

Master Lock in Milwaukee

"This place is always a part of me," said Jeff Wolk, a Master Lock employee. "I have been here 16 years, I run a stamping machine."

Master Lock was founded in 1921. 

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"They told us and the shock of it and there was a few people just got up and walked out," Wolk said. 

Walk is one of more than 300 workers Master Lock said will be let go in October. 

Master Lock in Milwaukee

"Everyone in there feels dejected, hurt, angry, sad," Wolk said.

"We certainly had no knowledge of this coming," said Mike Bink, Master Lock representative for UAW Local 469. 

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Bink said this type of job will be hard to replace. 

"A lot of them do have skills where they can pick up at other places, but not everybody does," Bink said.

Master Lock in Milwaukee

A spokesperson from Master Lock said this decision did not reflect on the performances or skills of the Milwaukee workforce. The company said it plans to expand elsewhere. 

"It’s sad, it’s a kick to the gut," Wolk said. "I cared how we did, cared enough to tell my boy to work here, there’s opportunity there."

Master Lock officials say they will work closely with the local union to help the workers. 

Full statement from Master Lock

"Today, The Master Lock Company made the difficult decision to close our Milwaukee, Wisconsin, operations in March 2024. As part of this decision, the company will fully transition its manufacturing capability from the Milwaukee plant to our other North American and global manufacturing operations as well as external suppliers. In addition to optimizing our own resources, Master Lock’s external supplier capabilities have advanced significantly and have demonstrated the ability to achieve exceptional quality and service which will collectively benefit our stakeholders. 

"This decision is not a reflection of the skills, performance or commitment of the Milwaukee workforce, and it was not made lightly. Rather, this is an opportunity to continue to enhance our supply chain resilience, maximize potential growth of the business and maintain our competitiveness into the future.

"Though the transition will take an extended period of time and the plant will not close until the end of March 2024, we wanted to provide as much advanced notice as possible to our associates. The company is committed to helping all of its displaced workers throughout the process by working closely with UAW Local #469 during effects bargaining to ensure a smooth transition. 

"No jobs will be eliminated prior to the ramp down of operations which we anticipate occurring October 2023 – March 2024.

"We want to express our deepest gratitude to our entire Milwaukee team and the greater Milwaukee community for their dedication and commitment to the company."

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson statement

"I am enormously disappointed by the impending closure of the Master Lock facility.  It is a slap in the face to the hardworking Milwaukee employees. They certainly deserve greater respect and appreciation from their company. 

"About a decade ago, Master Lock invited President Barack Obama to this same facility to celebrate the in-shoring of jobs.  Now, the company is going in the opposite direction, defying the trend of growing manufacturing jobs in the United States.

"As of this morning, Fortune Brands has not reached out to me, and I have heard no logical explanation for their actions."

UAW Region 4 Director's Statement

"The announced closing of MasterLock is one more cut to American workers that stems from our horrible trade agreements. In the 1990s, the company fired about 1,000 workers when they moved work to Mexico, so they could exploit workers there, in the name of more and more profits. CEO Nick Fink makes TEN MILLION per year – enough to cover the cost of about 250 Masterlock employees!

"This decision is not a reflection of the skills, performance or commitment of the Milwaukee workforce, and it was not made lightly," the company said in a statement. "Rather, this is an opportunity to continue to enhance our supply chain resilience, maximize potential growth of the business and maintain our competitiveness into the future."

"The first sentence is true; the second is hugely misleading – but let me translate: what they are REALLY saying is: ‘We make more money than regular Americans could even dream possible, on the backs of regular hard-working Americans. However, we have discovered we can make even MORE money by exploiting workers in Mexico. We have also learned that with that money, we can buy even more anti-worker politicians to pass laws that help us continue the cycle.’ The only thing missing from their press release was an emoji of them flipping off the American worker, and the lol emoji while they laugh all the way to the bank!

"I want to be clear – UAW workers at Local 469 have done their part – they have got no more to give. They need to concede NOTHING to this company to convince them to keep work in the USA – the company should keep work here because THIS is where their profits come from. THIS is the workforce that made them the household name we all know and trust! And YOU, the American taxpayer and consumer have made this the mega-rich company it is.

"I am calling on MasterLock and their CEO, Nick Fink, to reverse this decision and come to the table with this workforce’s representatives so collectively, they can continue their legacy of manufacturing in the industrial Midwest (Milwaukee, WI) for 102 more years!"