In March 2020, Brian O’Donnell, business manager at IBEW 131 in Kalamazoo, Mich., received a call from a contact at Pfizer Inc. concerning extensive plant modifications. Pfizer is headquartered in New York and has several pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities around the United States, including one in Kalamazoo.
“It was shortly after that they started ramping up for production of a COVID-19 vaccine,” O’Donnell said.
The call signaled potential work for IBEW 131 members, but it did not dismiss the possibility that Pfizer might secure labor elsewhere.
O’Donnell’s immediate response was to coordinate with Neil Parish, executive director of the NECA Michigan Chapter, and craft a letter to John Gardner, manager/TL of construction services for pharmaceutical manufacturing at Pfizer.
The letter touted IBEW 131’s code of excellence, its commitment to a safe, secure and injury-free workplace; its extensive professional and safety training; the drug and background checks that are standard pre-employment certifications; and its zero-tolerance substance abuse policy.
“Pfizer never went out to bid this job,” O’Donnell said. “We like to think their decision was based on our proven track record and high standards.”
For the last 40 years, Moore Electrical Service Inc., also based in Kalamazoo, has served the pharmaceutical manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, even when it was occupied by the Upjohn Co., which merged in 1995 with Pharmacia to become Pharmacia & Upjohn. In 2003, the company was acquired by Pfizer.
As Pfizer’s maintenance contractor, Moore employs 50 electricians. Their numbers have climbed as high as 80 since Moore began taking on construction projects there 12 years ago. For supporting Pfizer’s vaccine production, Moore signed on 25 additional IBEW 131 electricians.
“Anybody involved wanted to help,” said Kim Nuyen, president of Moore Electrical. “The local electricians and our regular group took this very seriously.”
Crews worked 12-hour days and six days a week from July 2020 through January 2021.
Pfizer’s plans were still coming together when Moore Electrical mobilized to begin demolition and layout for power distribution and lighting in an area within the main manufacturing facility. “Obviously, the whole project was designed and constructed like a moving target as ideas and production increased,” Nuyen said.
In January, Pfizer set up a lab at the end of the production line and gave free immunization shots to the electricians.
“We thought it was pretty cool to be among the first to get the vaccine,” Nuyen said.
The $4 million job wraps up in July 2021. It includes installation of cold storage, controls and instrumentation, additional lighting, security and surveillance.
Moore and IBEW 131 expect additional work from Pfizer for the next two to three years.