“Keep It Made In Erie!”
Local 506 in Jobs Battle with GE
Local 506, the largest local in UE and one of the oldest, is now in a major battle with General Electric over jobs. The local’s 3,500 members manufacture locomotives and electric wheel motors for off-highway vehicles (OHV) – giant mining trucks. On April 9, management of GE Transportation announced that it intends to transfer a substantial amount of work from Erie to a newly-built non-union plant in Fort Worth, Texas, and to lay off 950 UE members later this year.
GE’s announcement came after months of deliberately misleading Local 506 and the Erie community. The company had insisted that Ft. Worth would be an “overflow” plant that would not cost Erie any jobs. Despite its earlier claims, GE had already begun to move both locomotive and OHV work to Texas long before its April 9 announcement.
GE pays substantially lower wages in Fort Worth than in Erie, and this job transfer is part of its self-proclaimed “competitive wage” strategy, aimed at driving down the incomes of GE’s manufacturing and other workers to near-poverty levels. The attack on Local 506 comes despite GE Transportation – GE’s Erie-based division – making record profits in 2012. After the division’s profits more than doubled between 2010 and 2011 to $757 million, they grew another 36 percent in 2012 to $1 billion. For the first quarter of 2013, GE Transportation profits were up another 15 percent.
In 2012 GE made $8.4 billion in profit. A major contributor to GE’s profitability was GE Transportation, for which GE named the transportation division “business of the year.” The head of GE Transportation walked around the Erie plant showing off the trophy that came with that title – the result of the hard work of Local 506 members.
GE CEO Jeffery Immelt chaired President Obama’s “Jobs and Competitiveness Council”, whose stated purpose was creating jobs in the U.S. “GE says is it is dedicated to reviving American manufacturing and our economy,” said UE’s National President Bruce Klipple. “But what GE has done is close 40 factories in the U.S. in the last five years. And GE is conducting a so-called ‘competitive wage’ campaign to cut workers’ pay by as much as 50 percent.” At the same time GE is cutting wages, Immelt received an 80 percent pay raise, bringing his 2012 compensation to $20.6 million.