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The Upstate Economy

Schumer promises to help NY Air Brake expand

Julia Botero
Sen. Charles Schumer visited New York Air Brake for the first time last week.


Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), sporting protective ear plugs to block out the whirling of machines, shakes hands with workers on the factory floor of New York Air Brake in Watertown. It's the senator's first visit to the company, which has made brake systems for the railroad industry for over a century.

As Schumer pauses to study the heavy metal contraptions that make trains stop and slow down, company officials explain what he’s seeing. 

New York Air Brake is spread out in six locations across the country. About 500 hourly and salaried workers are in the Watertown factory. The company has done well in the past three years. Last year it made $400 million and its expanding its engineering test lab. But last year, more than 80 workers were laid off. CEO Mike Hawthorne says that not a sign the company is hurting.

“Our industry is cyclical. The products we build are directly tied to locomotive usage which is unfortunately down right now,” he said.

Credit Julia Botero / WRVO News
Schumer says he will work with CEO Mike Hawthorne to market NY Air Brake's products to Amtrack.

Hawthorne says with Schumer’s help he hopes to re-hire those laid off workers and expand the company's reach. Schumer says his sights are on Amtrack.

“Amtrack would be very interested in a product they have which would make train travel efficient. Everyone is talking about PTC – positive train control -- so train crashes wouldn’t happen. The products they make lend themselves to fit right in with strong positive train control,” Schumer said.

Experts says positive train control could have prevented the fatal  Amtrack derailment outside Philadelphia last year. Hawthorn is threatening to move Airbrake out of the state  if the minimum wage reaches $15. He says higher labor costs would make moving more cost effective. But standing next to Hawthorn, Schumer defended Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed wage hike.

“I support raising the minimum wage absolutely, but I think you have to take in account specific situations like this one,” Schumer said.

The senator went on to say businesses in New York City, where the cost of living is higher, would be able to absorb the wage hike more than businesses in the North Country.