Tester touts employee-owned businesses at car shredding stop

Billings Gazette

by Tom Lutey

Sen. Jon Tester had a real blast touring the state’s only car shredding facility Monday, although maybe not in the way the Democrat expected.

High above Pacific Steel’s new shredder, Tester slipped behind the controls to turn some Detroit iron into confetti. The shredder chewed through the first vehicle with ease, its whizzing hammers tearing the car to bits. The commotion rattled the 40-foot crow’s nest where Tester and a handful of onlookers peered down through thick bulletproof glass capped with a metal grate.

The second car exploded, sending a ball of fire and car confetti into the air.

“Whoa!” Tester shouted. “Did I break it?”

No, said the Pacific crew. A hidden source of combustible material, maybe a gas or propane fuel tank inside the car, made it into the shredder, which took the blast with the composure of an M1 Abrams tank.

“It’s incredible technology in the last place you would think of technology, in a scrap yard,” Tester said afterward. “Look, taking something that isn’t worth anything, in fact it’s a liability, and turning it into an asset and creating jobs in the process, I mean, that’s that best of both worlds.”

Tester toured the facility to see the value of employee-owned companies at work. In the Senate, Tester is supporting the Promotion and Expansion of Private Employee Ownership Act. The act eliminates some tax barriers in creating new employee-owned businesses and corporations.

Supporters of the act say it would allow employees at least partial ownership through company shares, which would prevent a new owner from stepping in and shutting down the business.

Employee-owned Pacific Steel is in expansion mode. The car crusher in Lockwood is the company’s second in the West and cost nearly $30 million. It chews up and spits out enough scrap to fill 16 to 20 rail cars each month.

Before shredding the vehicles, the company drains all fluids from the cars for recycling.