By: Don Loepp
November 16, 2017
After our Nov. 6, Page 1 story on a rotational molder that was accused of using unpaid workers from a court-ordered drug and alcohol treatment program, it's encouraging to have more positive workforce-related news this week.
BSD Industries has an inspiring story to tell. On the surface, it's a small molder in Chicago's South Side, churning out PLA and polypropylene cutlery.
But the reality is that BSD's most important product will be an army of automation technicians, ready to work in manufacturing plants of all kinds (not just plastics).
BSD will provide good career training to urban residents, including those who qualify for Chicago Housing Authority assistance. (CHA is one of many agencies and institutions that helped BSD start training workers a year ago, and start molding plastic last month.)
Trista Bonds, an electrical industrial automation/robotics engineer, came up with the idea. She was inspired when she saw a similar project for training machinists run by a Detroit nonprofit called Focus: Hope. She wanted to establish something similar in Chicago for robotics training.
In her career of 20-plus years, Bonds has worked at companies including Ford and Elkay Manufacturing. She's seen companies replace workers with robots then struggle to find people qualified to work in the newly automated factories.
Bonds is happy to spread the credit: the Rev. Byron Brazier (her pastor) and her church, the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood, were key in getting the project started and networking with other organizations and supporters. JPMorgan Chase contributed a whopping $500,000.
But BSD Industries isn't a charity. In fact, in a few years, the company's owner, the Arthur M. Brazier Foundation, expects the social enterprise to be contributing thousands of dollars a year back to worthy community projects.
Bonds also credits BSD's equipment supplier, Wittmann Battenfeld, which she says is more like a partner than a key supplier. The Wittmann Battenfeld folks I talked to for the story were enthusiastic supporters of BSD's mission.
Brian Heugh, Wittmann's Midwest regional sales manager for injection molding machines, told me about how when he first met Bonds, he questioned if BSD had a chance of succeeding. Now, he says, "It's probably the most fulfilling opportunity I've been involved with. I love telling the story."
It's great to see plastics companies involved in their communities, working as a force for good.
Now back to Hendren Plastics Inc., the rotational molder is accused of using forced labor. I hope that CEO Jim Hendren had his heart in the right place and that he truly felt that workers he hired through a social service agency, the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program, were getting paid and professional help recovering from addiction.
Hendren said his company paid DARP $9.25 per hour for each worker. "We paid for every dime of labor we received," Hendren told Plastics News.
Work in a rotomolding factory is tough and physical; I can't imagine anyone doing it without pay, even if they were getting drug treatment, room and board as part of the deal.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.