With training provided through the GreenPOWER program, workers are reducing waste, increasing recycling and cutting energy usage in many areas of the production process. On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis toured the plant to learn more about the changes.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis tours St. Paul company
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis talks with a worker during her tour of Viking Drill & Tool Wednesday. The group with her included David Foster (center), president of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation, and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

“Viking Drill & Tool is doing what it takes to improve their bottom line, become more energy efficient and prepare its workers for a changing landscape of American manufacturing,” Solis said. “That’s what I call a triple win.”

Viking is one of only a handful of companies left in the United States that manufacture high-quality cutting tools. Most of its 180 employees are represented by Local 120 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

“The whole workforce is very proud and very invested in what they do,” said Brenda Emerson, Local 120 union representative.

New approaches
Starting last year, Viking is manufacturing tools in a more sustainable, efficient and profitable manner, company President Dennis Nyhus said.

“By taking part in the GreenPOWER program and by investing in the ‘green’ skills of our workforce, we are saving money on energy consumption, reducing waste and becoming more competitive in an increasingly competitive market,” he said.

Sachs, who is Local 120 steward on the day shift, provided two examples. The company used to pay to dispose of used oil, but through a new process it is now reclaiming some 50 gallons a day. At $6 to $7 a gallon, “that’s a lot of money,” he noted.

Workers at Viking actually make a lot of the machinery they need to manufacture cutting tools, drills and other products, he said, and they have instituted better practices for maintaining and re-using the equipment.

These savings come back to workers through the company’s profit-sharing program, Sachs said.

Innovative training
GreenPOWER is an innovative training program started by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation and supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that prepares workers to implement sustainable manufacturing processes.

Since the program started in 2010, GreenPOWER has trained more than 700 workers on how to save time and money by reducing solid waste in the production process, lowering energy and water usage, reducing air pollution, applying Green Chemistry principles and techniques to all facets of business, and implementing comprehensive environmental management or sustainability programs.

One hundred workers have found training-related employment after taking GreenPOWER classes, the Foundation said.

Viking Drill employee Ahmed Gamadid
Ahmed Gamadid stamps the shanks of drills with size information before they are packaged.

“We were proud to showcase the training — and the worker and business successes — to Secretary Solis and we appreciate her visiting Minnesota to see what GreenPOWER is doing here at Viking and across Minnesota,” said David Foster, president of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation.

Viking employees were trained with the assistance of Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis, the company said. “In the last 10 months we have added 25 additional people to our workforce and have plans to add additional people in the future.”

Solis said programs like GreenPOWER are part of the Obama administration’s commitment to building a 21st century economy based on sustainable technologies. New ‘green’ jobs can help pull the United States out of the current recession, she said.

“I think we’re on the right course,” Solis told reporters.

For more information

Visit the GreenPOWER website

Doug Sachs and Brenda Emerson
Teamsters Local 120 day steward Doug Sachs and union representative Brenda Emerson say workers welcome the opportunity to make their jobs more environmentally sustainable.

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