In 2013, the future was different. When the Shoals factory first opened, it was offering about $ 12 an hour to start up and a chance for advancement. A worker, who requested anonymity in order to protect her future job prospects, quit a job in tile making to become a welder, building a variety of rail cars, from hoppers to gondolas. Soon she went through the air brake tester, sliding under the huge steel vehicles to fix the pipes.
“I went to FreightCar to retire,” said the worker. “I had no intention of leaving when I arrived.”
In the following years, concerns about safety, pay and management led to a union campaign. During the campaign, anti-union workers circulated leaflets warning that the factory would close if workers voted for the organization, and in 2018 they voted categorically against it.
It turned out that installing Shoals wouldn’t last long anyway.
Until 2020, FreightCar touted the competitiveness of the Shoals factory. A marketing video showed production lines run by industrial robots and skilled workers. “This is the largest, newest and most purpose-built plant in North America,” boasts Meyer. “A modern factory at the cutting edge of technology in every sense of the word. “
But the company was still losing money, to the tune of $ 75.2 million in 2019. When the pandemic further slowed orders, executives instead started talking about the new facility in Mexico.