Becoming a Steelworker Liberated Her. Then Her Job Moved to Mexico. : he man from Mexico followed a manager through the factory floor, past whirring exhaust fans, beeping forklifts, and drilling machines that whined against steel. Workers in safety glasses looked up and stared. Others looked away. Shannon Mulcahy felt her stomach lurch.

It was December 2016. The Rexnord Corporation’s factory still churned out bearings as it always had. Trucks still dropped off steel pipes at the loading dock. Bill Stinnett, a die-hard Indiana Pacers fan, still cut them into pieces. The pieces still went to the “turning” department, where they were honed into rings as small as a bracelet or as big as a basketball. Then to “heat treat,” where Shannon — who loves heavy metal music and abandoned dogs — hardened them with fire. Then to “grinding,” where Shannon’s cousin Lorry Mannix smoothed out any imperfections. And then to “assembly,” where Mark Elliott, a former Marine, joined two rings together, one inside the other, with a wheel of spinning rollers in between. The whole contraption was encased in a cast-iron housing machined by John Feltner, a father of three who’d just recovered from bankruptcy.

The bearings they made — modern-day equivalents of a gadget designed by Leonardo da Vinci — were packed into crates like enormous Christmas ornaments and shipped around the world. To digging machines that claw the earth. To wheat combines that spin in the fields. To elevators and escalators in the cities.

Sometimes a bearing was rumored to have ended up in something notable — the retracting roof of the Dallas Cowboys football stadium or a nuclear submarine — giving the workers a feeling of greatness. But mostly, the bearings were unglamorous. Anonymous. Hidden from view. Like the workers themselves, they were rarely thought of beyond the factory walls.

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