A Brief Corporate History of EMD

 

Thirty-five years ago Westinghouse was just one of dozens of large corporate employers in the area.  Wages and benefits were similar among the various companies, mostly because most of the workers were represented by unions.  Westinghouse was not known as the best place in the area to work, it was one of many good places to work.  People could and did change jobs on a regular basis, there was no shortage of employers who were hiring.  

In the mid to late 1980’s EMD was thriving and hiring. The Reagan administration in Washington had committed to a huge naval buildup and the future looked bright.  At the time of my own employment interview here at EMD in 1987, one of the foremen boasted that EMD had a backlog of work “out to 2012.”  That statement proved to be premature.  The corporate masters at Westinghouse headquarters were caught up in the stock market and real estate boom of the mid-eighties; one could say that they were blinded by greed for more and more quick profits.   

Following the stock market crash of October 1987, the corporation found itself holding some bad loans and swamped in debt by over-extended real estate deals.  What would be the solution to poor decisions by a bloated corporate management?  Cut the payroll, layoff workers, close factories and sell off the assets to pay down the debt and provide bonuses and golden parachutes to top management.      

 By 1987 many good union jobs had already disappeared.  In the Pittsburgh area the major contraction of the basic steel industry destroyed the livelihoods of many thousands of working families.  Many of the large steel mills in the Mon Valley went down for good.  Westinghouse Electric closed their massive factory in East Pittsburgh.   Even as Westinghouse went into financial ruin in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, EMD thrived on its diet as “sole-source” supplier for the nuclear Navy’s critical-function hardware.  EMD also had carved out a niche as a supplier of key equipment to the commercial nuclear power industry.  With the demise of East Pittsburgh, Cheswick became practically the last repository of the Westinghouse nuclear-hardware manufacturing business.  EMD was not immune to the industrial downturn that swept across America.  We experienced a layoff of more than 100 hourly workers in January of 1994. 

 A few fortunate and highly skilled workers from the old factories found employment here at EMD, where the factory continued to exist primarily because of its unique relationship with the U.S. Navy.  Throughout the mid-1990’s under the corporate flag of CBS, Inc., the vast industrial empire that had been Westinghouse Electric Corp. was systematically dismantled and sold off piece by piece to pay off bankers and stock speculators.  By 1999 Cheswick EMD was literally the last manufacturing facility still carrying the Westinghouse name.  That would end as well when CBS sold it to a joint venture renamed Westinghouse Government Services, which was owned by the American construction conglomerate Morrison-Knudsen (M-K) and the British-government-owned British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL).  The so-called “joint-venture” was always described in somewhat murky terms.  The official line was that because of the strategic U.S. defense component of the EMD business, only a U.S. owned company would be permitted to own and operate it.  In practice EMD was owned and operated by Morrison-Knudsen.  

Curiously, or perhaps not surprisingly, M-K management exhibited behavior which was not very different from the old Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  The period from 1999 through 2001 was a time of rising stock prices and widespread corporate consolidation.  “Acquisition” was one of the buzzwords in the corporate vocabulary of the time.  One of the top executives at Morrison-Knudsen was Dennis Washington.  Mr. Washington managed to acquire a controlling position in the company’s stock, and Morrison-Knudsen was reborn as Washington Group International.  Then in a highly publicized acquisition in 2001, Washington Group swallowed up Raytheon Corporation.  This turned out to be a bad move for Washington Group.  It wasn’t long before various executives from both companies were trading accusations of bad-faith negotiations; Raytheon apparently had some financial skeletons in its closets.  The long and short of it was that Washington Group ended up in bankruptcy.

 What do bankrupt companies do?  Cut the payroll, layoff workers, close factories and sell off the assets to pay off the banks and provide bonuses and golden parachutes for top management.  Washington Group never had much of a management presence at EMD, now they saw it as a marketable asset to raise much-needed cash. 

Enter Curtiss-Wright Corporation, the storied manufacturer of engines and airplanes during the World Wars.  Their Target Rock factory was actually a competitor of EMD in the field of valves and other hardware for the U.S. Navy.  Curtiss-Wright upper management was eager to acquire EMD and in October of 2002  they got it for a bargain price:  $80 million in cash and with the provision that they assume pension and environmental liabilites.  Washington Group received some badly needed cash and Curtiss-Wright acquired what their upper management viewed as the “crown jewel.”  The acquisition of EMD practically doubled the size of Curtiss-Wright overnight and cemented their market position as a critical supplier for the U.S. Navy. 

It may come as a surprise to some, but Curtiss-Wright corporate management is not very different from their EMD predecessors at Washington Group or Pepsico or the old Westinghouse Electric Corporation.  When the road gets bumpy, top management strives first and foremost to maintain their privileged status and extract more value from the workforce.  Ever-increasing profit is the mantra emanating from Parsippany, New Jersey and Falls Church, Virginia.

They are not implementing so-called “cost-cutting” measures because they aren’t making a profit.  They are squeezing the workers because they want MORE profits.

 

Corporate Ethics