Tax abatement deal approved with union support for Wieland Rolled Products’ $500 million expansion

Labor leaders cite good union jobs with benefits

Illinois Correspondent

East Alton, IL – Union members showed up to tell the Wood River-Hartford School District how important the Wieland Rolled Products expansion is to them.

Wieland Rolled Products announced a $500 million investment in its East Alton facility in January. The factory, which once was Olin Brass, has been in operation for a century and once employed up to 1,800 people as it was a wartime manufacturer of ammunition. Wieland purchased the facility in 2021, and controls 800 jobs in the state.

Wieland’s decision to increase East Alton production of alloys used in electric vehicles was touted as a sign of major investment in the Metro East and Illinois, praised by Gov. JB Pritzker and other public leaders.

Wieland’s incentive package, organized through the state’s Reimagining Energy and Vehicles in Illinois (REV Illinois) program, includes property tax abatements for several years requiring the consent of local taxing districts. Wood River-Hartford’s school board had voted 3-2 in favor of abating property tax increases for Wieland for the course of the agreement. But with one person abstaining, it was not a clear majority of the number of board members present, and the district’s attorneys told Superintendent Patrick Anderson that the vote could be challenged, and they should vote again.

Last month, the board held a special meeting to re-vote the issue. This time the board room was filled beyond capacity to standing room only, with more people standing outside in the hallway, many wearing their union shirts.

Wieland’s workers are represented by the International Association of Machinists Lodge 660. B. Dean Webb, president of the Madison County Federation of Labor, told the board that the Wieland deal is job security for more than 600 people, most of whom are in the school district.

“These are good jobs, career jobs,” he said. “How many companies are offering $30-40 an hour jobs with healthcare and benefits?”

Webb pointed out that municipalities give tax abatements all the time to Walmart and Dollar General, companies that pay minimum wage. “We can’t do this?” he asked.

Support for the deal crossed party lines. Present at the meeting were Illinois Sen. Erica Harriss (R-Glen Carbon) and state Rep. Amy Elik (R-Alton). Elik told the board this was one of the few projects where Democrats and Republicans are working together, as she and others partnered with the Democratic governor to make this happen.

Elik pointed out that right now, Wieland pays $37,000 a year to Wood River-Hartford. With the expansion, it will grow to $169,000, and in 30 years when the last of the abatements expires, they’ll be bringing in more than $300,000.

“In a perfect world, we would not have to give tax incentives to companies,” she said. “We don’t have that, though. This is the next best thing.”

Greg Stimac, business manager of Laborers’ Local 338, said as a trade worker, even 35 construction jobs is a win. “I’ll take one job, that’s one family going to work,” he said. “Without a doubt, this is a game-changer for this community.”

The other nine taxing bodies had already signed on to the deal. “We as a township voted for this 100 percent,” said Mike Babcock (R-Wood River), township supervisor for Wood River and a member of the Madison County Board, which also approved the deal. “We support union jobs. We want those union jobs to thrive… I’m not sure why anyone would not want to vote for this.”

The primary opponent of the deal was board member Travis Cook, who said in the interim “our dying community” would lose $36,000 a year in property taxes for the schools.

“I don’t like this deal,” he said. “My school is dying with Wieland here, and it’s going to die if they’re not here.” He said he wanted Wieland to stay in the community but felt like they were “strong-armed” into the incentive deal, pitting residents and board members against each other.

However, the new vote was all in favor of the deal with Cook as the sole “no” vote and board treasurer Sheila Sorgea absent.

Harriss said she believes it’s going to be positive. “Any time we have the potential for stable jobs and a growing local economy, that’s a benefit,” she said.

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